Natalie Benally is a dance artist, filmmaker, writer, actress and community/language advocate from the Navajo Nation. She has directed and choreographed numerous theater productions. Likewise, Benally has also become involved in film and television productions, both as crew and in creative direction. She is the Co-Founder & Creative Director of Tse’Nato’, a mixed media storytelling company to amplify Indigenous voices and representation. She is the recipient of the Senator John Pinto Native American Filmmakers Fund Grant and the First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital Fellowship. Of note, Benally has performed the lead role of Dory in the Navajo dubbed version of Disney/Pixar’s Finding Nemo.
As a young girl growing up on the Navajo Reservation, Benally’s first artistic experience was dancing on the land she was surrounded by, which taught her movement embedded in cultural connection and storytelling. The lack of Native representation in the theater and dance communities inspired her to pursue a career in the arts. Currently, she offers accessible and affordable training opportunities through free dance workshops in various dance styles, teaching foundational techniques that allow youth participants to build skills and knowledge. In the film industry, she finds it is important to create a platform for young artists’ stories to be told, utilizing her filmmaking abilities to capture them in a way that does not exploit or misrepresent them.
Whenever I dance, I’m not just connecting to the stories that I carry, but I also carry it from my parents, my grandparents, and from people who came before them. I keep stories alive using my body.
—Natalie Benally (Dine/Navajo)
Benally’s LIFT project, Azhish: Stories In Motion Film Series/Performing Arts Youth Program, is a two-part project. The first piece is a series of free community arts workshops that will tour Navajo Nation called Dancing on the Rez, focusing on dance technique, with threads in film, writing, and painting. Part two is the creation of a dance film series, where selected dancers will work in collaboration with Benally (director/choreographer) to tell their stories in their own words and choreographic style, culminating in a documentary film about the artists’ practices.