O’Hare Video Installation Combines Footwork and Native American Dance Styles into Uniquely Chicago Film

Video: A preview of the dance film “Skywalkers,” now playing at O’Hare International Airport. It is a collaboration between P-Top De La Cruz, Wills Glasspiegel and Winfield RedCloud Woundedeye. (Courtesy of “Skywalkers”)

Between the international arrivals and departures at O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 5 move dancers with contrasting styles.

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The movement comes courtesy of the film “Skywalkers,” a collaboration between the Era Footwork Crew’s P-Top De La Cruz and multidisciplinary artist Wills Glasspiegel, a pair WTTW News first introduced you to in September 2021

New to their collaborative team is Native American dancer Winfield RedCloud Woundedeye. 

“For the better half of the 1900s, it was illegal to dance the Native dance style,” Woundedeye says. “Laws were put into place to prevent Natives from expressing their culture but it’s had a big resurgence since then.”

He was tasked with connecting the movements of footwork and Native dance.

“Native American-style dance is very close to me because I feel super connected with my people when I dance,” he said. “It was incredible to work with P-Top and the Era, sharing moves and learning the history of footwork, and teaching them the history of Grass dance.”

Both styles of dance have Chicago and American roots, says Woundedeye.

“Footwork originated here and the Grass dance originated not too far from Chicago — in Omaha, Nebraska. That was before Western colonization pushed us west,” he said. “Footworking and Grass dance has a lot of face and feet movement. Grass dance might not be as elaborate, but we still move our feet.”

P-Top said the collaboration was a rewarding one.

“It helped me take footworking to the next level. Our language is dance,” P-Top said. “Seeing the similarities of indigenous style dance when Winfield would break it down, and seeing certain movements that aren’t too far apart — it was a connection. It encouraged me to think outside the box.”

Filmed at the Willis Tower, on the lakeshore at the Promontory Point with the city’s skyline in the background and other locations, “Skywalkers” is set to play on a permanent loop as part of the largest public commission to Chicago artists through DCASE in three decades. 

“We wanted to connect themes between dance and flight,” Glasspiegel says. “Everyone has their own take on what that means.”

It’s also a new stage for footwork, which Glasspiegel says has often been performed in basements and roller rinks.

“Winfield expressed powwows often happen outside of the city, often more rural areas,” Glasspiegel said. “So we want to show that these dances are at the height of the city. They deserve to be on our tallest tours and also ground us too.”

For Woundedeye, this celebration of flight and dance excites him, as he has future aspirations to become a pilot. But that’s not the only place his creative talent lies. He also sews his own regalia, which is described as clothing or adornments that Native Americans wear during powwows or social dances. 

“We don’t call them costumes,” Woundedeye says. “ … For us, this is who we are, it is our identity. We don’t dress up to be something we’re not. When we wear these outfits, it’s the most formal wear that we can wear. The craftsmanship is more intricate than any blazer or pants I’ve ever worn. The original style of Grass dancing wasn’t flamboyant. As Natives, we use this dance in a humble way to convey prayers and thoughts. We use it to show the brilliance of our people.”

“Skywalkers” also includes movement by dancers Ladybug Williams, Steelo Lofton, Ziggy Simone, Litebulb Oliver, as well as female First Nations dancer Kisis. 

“Her dance imitates butterflies, or flight if you will,” Woundedeye says. “The dance you see by her is called the Fancy Dances. It imitates a butterfly flying through the wind.”

Woundedeye said he hopes travelers passing by will see that dance is always evolving.

“As a Native American, … I’m in classrooms, and a lot of people think we’re extinct,” he said. “The installation, at least for Native people when they enter Terminal 5, I hope they see that were still here. Our existence is our resistance.”

Note: This story was updated to clarify the name of P-Top De La Cruz's crew. 

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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