Myriad dancers, myriad styles ancient and new, all on one stage for one dance piece.

Ballet, traditional Native dance and two styles of hip-hop. All of the performers learned their techniques through different means and methods.

Louis Plant, a Kootenai member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, grew up dancing. Isiah Kim, meanwhile, learned through a more modern means. The 15-year-old Valley Christian student is self-taught.

He was one of the few competitors who entered with hip-hop styles, in his case a blend of animation and popping styles. One is a classic in the genre, the other rather new: animation adapts slow-motion, pauses, speed-ups and other cinematic tricks into the repertoire.

He's been dancing for about two years, teaching himself via YouTube videos of artists like Fik-Shun and Marquese Scott and picking up yoga-like bends and ankle-busting footwork.

"I just watch the professionals perform and try to emulate what they do," he said.

Kim was on stage at the University of Montana's Dennison Theatre for the first-ever U.S. appearance by the Vienna International Ballet Experience.

Competitions were held in three categories: open, contemporary and ballet, split into group and individual ranks and age brackets.

They were judged by a world-class panel that included Gregor Hatala, VIBE's president and chairman.

It presented a unique opportunity for Kim, who decided to enter for the experience. Outside of this week's competitions, he'd have to travel out of state to the centers of hip-hop dancing.

One of the Native dancers was Plant.

He and male fancy dancers and female eagle dress dancers, representing Navajo, Ho-Chunk, Cree, Winnebago, Shawnee and Ojibwe nations, performed in the opening ceremony and the opening competitions.

Since connecting with the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre a decade ago, Plant has performed across China three times – visiting metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai in addition to its rural areas. With the Kootenai Nation Dance Team, he went to Germany and Poland. With CSKT and Salish Kootenai College, he danced in New Zealand's Palmerston North, Missoula's sister city.

Plant began dancing when he was too young to know how many continents it would land him on.

"I've danced since I was 3. I emulated my brothers," he said.


The ballet dancers in the opening ceremony mashup of styles were RMBT students, performing original works by the company's founder, Charlene Campbell.

Set to music by all-American composer Aaron Copland and dressed in cowboy hats, jeans and vests, the students showed off a homegrown dance that they've brought to China and Vienna.

Individually, all these dancers competed in the open category, where according to organizers, "anything goes" and a sliver of the diversity of dance from around the world was on display.

Before the opening ceremony, Aidan Carberry a Los Angeles choreographer and dancer, appeared on stage alone and initially quite still. Dressed in black pants and short-sleeved black button-up shirt accompanied by ambient music, he began jutting his arms out to match a melodic sequence of bells before entering into a free-form mixture of hip-hop styles.

He was up against experienced Flamenco dancers and junior tap dancers. A 10-year-old performed a Balinese dance, with rapid movements on her tiptoes, right down to the flighty exit from the stage. Milena Oganesyan did a traditional Armenian dance.

The next day brought the contemporary category, which embodied "anything goes" in its own way.

Some groups incorporated moves from marching bands, right down to the drum sticks. Another, the Dance Syndicate of Lewistown, used four beds in their choreographer's dream-like narrative.

In a solo piece, Kiersten Miller stretched a tether across the length of the Dennison's stage. She fought against it, sometimes winning and sometimes losing ground or becoming entangled in it. She balled it up and tossed it in the air.

For "Tundra," Anja Fanslau used the foot techniques of a trained ballerina for a contemporary means. She moved skillfully on her toes while her upraised arms mimicked the swirl of wind on a snowy plain.

Validating choreographer Merce Cunningham's edict that "falling is one of the ways of moving," solo dancer Fallon Walker enacted the lyrics to Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)."

Others were more playful, such as Adriana Bosnjak's "Feeling Blue," set to bluesy guitar and percussion.

Antonio, a 12-year-old, was a whirlwind of movement set to dramatic choral music, illustrating a life and death struggle with skillful flips before a triumphant finale.

The diversity of dance was part of the goal for the VIBE appearance in Missoula, showing that it's a universal act.

"It is through cultural exchanges like VIBE USA that we can be part of a global community that wants people to connect and bridge those divides instead of deepening the divides," said Kathy Weber-Bates, who helped the RMBT organize the Missoula event.

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