Finding My Dance book cover

A new children’s book Finding My Dance from Ria Thundercloud tells the story of her dance journey, from powwow trails to dance class, and traveling the world through dancing.

Thundercloud is a professional Indigenous dancer and chore­ographer, and a member of both Sandia Pueblo and the Ho-Chunk nation. The book is illustrated by Kalila J. Fuller.

The Chieftain caught up with Thundercloud by phone on her book’s birthday. The book takes readers through her at times lonely experiences in school and dance classes.

“During my training as a dancer, it is a very Eurocentric industry, so there were times where I felt alone in school, at the studio, in certain places because I was the only Native ever.”

The book also follows Thundercloud as an Indigenous dancer on the powwow trail and the many places her dancing took her across the globe.

The book’s publication was a serendipitous experience, she said.

“It almost felt like magic, because the publishing editor reached out to me and asked me to share a story, so I didn’t real­ize how rare that was until I was going to these new publishing author workshops and how they had tried for so long to get their book published.”

In 2018, Thundercloud was performing in a showcase in Santa Fe, when something strange happened. Only five people were in the audience for one of the shows.

The audience members were all magazine editors for publica­tions like Vogue, Glamour and Marie Claire.

Ria Thundercloud, member of Sandia Pueblo
and the Ho-Chunk nation, dancer and author.

“I just remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, I will never be in a room with these same women again.’ It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Thundercloud introduced her­self during meet and greets after the show.

“I talked about how indigeneity is trending lately in media, fashion, magazines, designs and I was like, it would be really amazing if these fashion magazines really put real Indigenous people in their maga­zines who grew up in a Native life­style, who grew up on a reserva­tion, but who are doing something, who are out here doing stuff.

“There’s so many talented Natives, educated Natives, who aren’t getting any recognition, because we don’t really have a huge platform in the media world. Most of it is stereotypical; it’s very pan-Indian.”

Two weeks after the perfor­mance, Glamour got in touch, interested in interviewing Thundercloud about her story. The book’s publisher saw the article and asked Thundercloud if she’d be interested in turning her story into a children’s book.

Getting her bachelor’s degree in Indigenous studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts really prepared Thundercloud to share her story.

“I think that’s what really, really solidified me wanting to speak up and use my voice because up until that point, I never really spoke about it. I would try to explain things the best way I could, but it’s a lot of frustration when you don’t have the right words.”

In the future, Thundercloud would like to start her own pro­duction company or dance studio.

“I want to train professional dancers, because as Indigenous people, we’re really thrown into a Eurocentric world with classi­cal dance. In my dance company, I would love to keep it, a lot of holistic practices behind it as well, but also train at a pretty professional level because that’s the training I received.”