Indian Dancers Cannot Wear Sun Glasses

Last year I submitted this image to a local photography club in the hopes that it would be selected for inclusion in a state wide photography contest.


The photo was immediately rejected by my fellow photographers. I still consider myself a hobbyist and a long way from a professional so I asked “why”. I was wondering if there was a problem with focus, exposure, white balance, composition etc. I was not quite prepared for the answer I received.

“I don’t like the sun glasses”

“If the dancer was not wearing sun glasses it would be perfect”

“The sun glasses are confusing.”

“The sun glasses are out of place”

I was pretty stunned but in hindsight I should not have been all that surprised. For generations Americans have been fed a strange static view of Native culture. Media and the education system has created and propagated a horse, leather, and feathers view of Indian people. Americans prefer their Indians as traditional as possible. This is probably the root of the rule that I and this young dancer violated.

Indian dancers cannot wear sun glasses.

If I had been more brave and less stunned I should have asked “why can’t Indian dancers wear sun glasses?”

Can cowboys wear baseball caps? Sure cowboys can wear whatever they want. No one expects or more to the point demands that cowboys wear only clothing or carry equipment from the 1800’s. The very idea is absurd on all levels. Unlike cowboys Indians are not allowed to violate the anachronistic popular conception that so many people hold. A cowboy is a cowboy even when wearing a baseball cap, yet a Native person that does not appear to have stepped out of an Edward S. Curtis image is deemed inauthentic to many observers.

I had enough wits about me to explain that wearing reflective sun glasses is normal, many dancers wear them but my words and even photographic evidence was not enough to sway deeply held views. Native culture is not canned or pickled for long shelf life. Healthy cultures continue to grow, change, and adapt to time, technology and other cultures. Only dead cultures never change.

In a real way I failed that evening.

Photography can be beautiful sunsets, majestic vistas, powerful or cute and cuddly animals, glamor shots, cute kids, and vacation memories. Photography can also shake the world, change perception, move people to action, and fundamentally change people, I am not saying the image I captured will cause a paradigm shift but I did want to challenge the viewers. I wanted them to think differently about Native people. I was shocked by how challenging the simple image above was for a good number of the people in the room.

This is my second shot at making the change.


Bonus content, just in case my readers still think the young dancer above is an anomaly. I bring you

Dancers in Sun Glasses!





About ikcewicasa

Ikcewicasa means common man in Lakota. I guess that describes me. I am turning 40 next year. I have a college degree and I have a professional job. The blog is just random stuff. I try and keep most of my posts humorous in nature sprinkled with a bit of American Indian items, soundtracks (which I love), food (something I also love) and movies (when I have the money and time to go see them. so basically ramblings that rattle around in my mind. Hope you enjoy. Like what you read? comment and re post. don't like what you read, let me know as well. ALL STORIES ON THIS SITE ARE ABSOLUTELY TRUE... EXCEPT THE PARTS I MAKE UP!
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5 Responses to Indian Dancers Cannot Wear Sun Glasses

  1. Gali M. says:

    Hi! Loved reading this post, thank you!
    I believe these pictures are absolutely beautiful exactly the way they are. I love the dancers in sunglasses, I thought it worked … and cannot understand the people who couldn’t see it for what it is.
    (cowboys bit was really funny!) Cheers!

  2. Arlee Bird says:

    I think your photo is beautiful. The sunglasses brings the image into the modern age creating a unique juxtaposition rather than an anomaly.

    Tossing It Out

  3. jimallder says:

    I would only argue that the sunglasses should be as colorful as the costumes, so they match. And a couple of them did; I think because they were reflective. Photos I’m looking at with more colorful sunglasses, against the native dress, balance really well. Those look good to me. Those wearing the flat grey sunglasses seem mismatched. But at least two of the photos look good to me. Perhaps they could take it a step further by painting the frames of their shades to match the traditional native dress colors, and let the reflective lenses do the rest.

  4. Robert says:

    look, weather its Indian dancers or fashion models ,or animals, or children or birds or cattle the true and deep connection we as humans all want and respond to is through the eyes! That! is and always will be the love in our hearts, the vision we aspire to become, our very existence is cumulatively condensed into fleeting moments that flashed through the irises of those that inspire us all every day!..loose the shades! and be an inspiration.

  5. I’m a photographer… what do the judges know? Clearly not much about photography. It was more about their wants in pictures and not about photographs in your instance. Keep it up. You’re good.

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