Can you imagine learning to dance after breaking both your legs? For choreographer Tekaronhiáhkhwa Santee Smith, that was her reality. After breaking both legs in an accident when she was a child, her parents enrolled her in ballet as a form of rehabilitation. But after six years at Canada’s National Ballet School and plenty of other training, she felt like something was missing.
“The teacher saw she had talent and spent a lot of time with her”, said her father Steve. She tried everything else to strengthen her body after the injuries, from figure skating to gymnastics, but ballet just stuck.
After moving off the reserve and into residence at the national ballet school in Toronto, Santee had a tough time adjusting. She decided to stick it out, but after dedicating six years to ballet and training six days a week, she eventually decided it wasn’t the career path she wanted.
Santee returned home to the reserve and completed two degrees, kinesiology and psychology, at McMaster University. While studying she stopped dancing completely: “I just stepped away from dance thinking I wasn’t ever going to be a professional dance artist, and there was nothing really that filled the void of that”.
At first, physiotherapy crossed her mind, but she was never set on one career. “When I was finishing off my last year (at Mac) I was really worried about getting high marks. I almost made myself sick”, Santee revealed.
The lackof creativeoutlet triggered her return to Toronto– and to dance. “Since about 1996I’ve been moving forward creating my own work as an independent artist”, she said.
Santee Smith is a multi-disciplinary artist, and award-winning producer, choreographer. She holds performance in a sacred space, as all life is sacred. Santee maintains an Onkwehon:we understanding of performance, the body and role of artist: music and dance are celebrations of life; the body is a vessel to house our spirit during our earth walk and the artist as a storyteller, transformer and medicine person.
“The majority of my inspiration and perseverance as an artist emanates from my DNA; my family lineage. Both of my parents, Leigh and Steve Smith, were native rights activists turned visual artists. They’re pottery makers and spend their lives replicating our ancient iconography, symbols and stories”, the choreographer revealed in an old interview.
Apart from dancing, Santee is a pottery designer at family owned business Talking Earth Pottery located on Six Nations, freelance actor, writer and producer.