The characters of Jax (Gladstone) and her niece Roki (Deroy-Olson), who are going about their daily lives at the Seneca-Cayuga Reservation, are introduced to viewers in Fancy Dance. Since it is obvious that Jax is a devoted and caring aunt in every way, this pattern of stealing strangers' car keys simply serves to highlight the difficult situations that society has imposed upon them. When it is discovered that Roki's mother Tawi has been missing for weeks without any action being taken by the authorities to locate her, the stress surrounding their survival-related adventures is only increased. Jax has to deal with the very real potential that Tawi has been taken from them permanently and that she will lose Roki to child protective services, even though Roki desperately hopes her mother would show up at the yearly powwow to dance with her.
Fancy dance knows all too well that life is worthless without hope, but that hope without action is just as harmful. After being granted custody of his estranged granddaughter along with his new wife, Jax's father Frank (played with understated authority by Shea Whigham) enters the scene. His awkward attempts to connect with Roki highlight how useless empty words are when the speaker hasn't taken any action to help. The fractured relationship between Jax and Frank is also acknowledged, making the movie both a drama about a family and a critique of contemporary society.
Tawi might be viewed as Fancy Dance's major flaw because she functions more as a metaphor or cypher than a genuine person, but her absence is essential to the story. The history of abuse against Indigenous women and the unsolved disappearances of Native women is still a quiet epidemic. She is seldom the centre of attention (and rarely even noticed, for that matter), which sometimes stops her from feeling like anything more than an extension of the other characters but also emphasises how actual women are increasingly becoming a statistic. Additionally, it makes room for more humorous exchanges between Roki and Jax or even between Jax and her sporadic girlfriend Sapphire (Crystle Lightning).
Even though there is less dancing than the title would suggest, Fancy dance portrays the forthcoming powwow as a representation of unwavering hope. Roki eagerly anticipates the momentous occasion because it will give her the chance to visit her mother one more and because it will allow viewers to see the Indigenous community that supports her and Jax. Even if the leads' lives are becoming increasingly difficult since law enforcement is perceived as a threat rather than a source of protection, there is a lovely sense that their delight will not be diminished if they are allowed one more dance.
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