World Champion Fancy Dancer Larry Yazzie has performed all over the world — now, he's taking his talent to social media to educate younger generations.
C&I recently chatted with Larry Yazzie from the Meskwaki Nation about his journey dancing and how he's sharing Indigenous traditions with audiences across the globe.
Cowboys & Indians: What inspired you to begin fancy dancing?
Larry: I was inspired to dance at the age of seven years old when I saw all the dancers at our annual Meskwaki Powwow. I wanted to be out there as well so I asked my mom if she would help me. She gathered the material and pieced together a fancy dance outfit for me.
C&I: Many powwows were cancelled last year due to COVID-19. How did this impact your dancing journey?
Larry: COVID-19 impacted my dancing immensely. Most of my solo shows and Native Pride Dancers shows were cancelled — we average about 400 shows a year, so that was pretty hard to deal with. I went into the drawing room. I reinvented my dance, my art, my regalia. I started working out, eating right. So, I basically just reinvented my mind, body, and soul and came back even stronger.
C&I: We love your videos on Instagram and TikTok — what made you decide to take your dancing to social media?
Larry: Well, with the help of my manager, Christal Moose, who inspired me to take my dancing to a whole new level with social media, especially with TikTok. TikTok allows me to educate the younger people as well about my dancing and especially about my culture. One of my TikTok videos has over 3 million views!
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C&I: You’ve performed across the United States, Canada, and Europe. What is the most memorable place you’ve danced?
Larry: [Laughing] Oh wow, the most memorable place I’ve danced…I have to say would be in Jerash, Jordan, in the Middle East. Myself and about 10 other dancers from my dance company the Native Pride Dancers, performed in an old-style coliseum theater that was built by the Romans. It was an awesome feeling to perform on that stage.
C&I: Can you tell us a bit about the regalia you wear when dancing?
Larry: My men’s fancy dance regalia is made from different types of beads and feathers. I am wearing a Head Roach. It has eagle feathers strung through spinners so the feathers spin freely while I dance. In the middle of the Head Roach is a leather spreader, which pushes the porcupine hairs out to give it a full look. I also have two drop feathers from the red-tailed hawk. My headband is beaded and has a medallion in the front and center.
I have on a beaded vest, another beaded medallion, belt, side drops, and an apron that drops in the front and the back. On my legs I have bells, angora hides, flaps, and beaded moccasins. I wear two bustles, top and bottom, made of turkey spike feathers, dyed chicken feathers, and horsehair. My bustles were made by my Choctaw/Chickasaw brother from Oklahoma, Michael Roberts.
C&I: Becoming a World Champion Fancy Dancer must take a lot of work and dedication. What did it take to earn that honor two times?
Larry: To earn the world champion title, I had to work hard. I had to practice, practice, practice. Work out, run, lift weights, eat right. Plus, I was a lot younger, too. You have to be in shape, and you have to stay in time to the beat of the drum.
C&I: What is something about you that many people don’t know?
Larry: Well, if you don't already know, I'm from the Meskwaki Nation in Central Iowa. My Indian name is Monaka and I’m a proud member of the wolf clan and I love to antique shop.
For more on Larry Yazzie, follow him on TikTok and Instagram.
Photography: (Cover image) courtesy Nedahness Rose Greene