As a child, Montana Summers never dreamed he would become a professional dancer.
With training in contemporary, jazz, ballet, and traditional Indigenous dances, the 19-year-old from the Oneida of the Thames First Nation had no idea his early days of going to the longhouse with his grandmother were shaping the foundation of his artistic career.
“I learned mostly smoke dances when I was a kid and only started studying other styles in grade 10,” said Summers who describes his dance form as a fusion of genres. “My grandmother was a clan mother, so going with her to longhouses to learn traditional and social dances was a normal thing. I was just a kid who loved to move.”
Summers says his dance career “happened naturally” and credits his high school dance teacher Tracey Iddison at H.B. Beal Secondary School in London, Ontario with opening him up to the wide world of dance.
“It was kind of meant to be,” said Summers. “I had this amazing dance teacher who took me under her wing. She was very interested in contemporary Indigenous dance, and had an adopted son who was also Native and from my reserve. She got him into dance which inspired me because I didn’t even know [a career in dance] was possible.”
From there, Summers was accepted into the Indigenous Dance Residency in Banff, Alberta, and went on to work with renowned Indigenous contemporary dancer and choreographer Santee Smith whom he calls his “inspiration” as an artist.
“We originally met at a pow wow boot camp of hers when I was in my last year of high school,” said Summers. “Later on, Santee got word of me going to the Residency program and pretty much threw contracts at my feet saying, ‘Come work for me.’ No auditions or anything, it was pretty great.”
At the Indigenous Dance Residency, Summers was exposed to Indigenous dances from around the world including New Zealand, and Fiji. He continued to develop his fusion dance skills under the tutelage of Smith who is well known for mixing Indigenous genres with contemporary, and exploring complex themes in her performances.
Now a full-time dancer, Summers has studied international contemporary movement with Smith’s Kaha:wi Dance Theatre Summer Intensive program, and has performed in several of her critically acclaimed choregraphed pieces.
In the future, Summers hopes to apply for grants to work on his own artistic projects that he says will highlight the Indigenous issues that are close to his heart. He believes in the power of dance to bring about social awareness through the beauty of cultural diversity.
“Through dance I want to share our stories and how much we’ve been through as Indigenous people,” said Summers. “I hope to show that more than 150 years of Canada, there were thousands of years of people before, with cultures, languages and dances that we can show in a manner that people of all background can understand and relate to today.”