Tria Blu Wakpa

Tria Blu Wakpa

Assistant Professor


Tria Blu Wakpa is an Assistant Professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research and teaching center community-engaged, decolonizing, and dance studies methodologies to examine the politics and practices of dance and other movement modes—such as theatrical productions, athletics, and yoga—for Indigenous peoples in and beyond structures and institutions of confinement. She is a mother, scholar, poet, and practitioner of Indigenous dance, North American Hand Talk (Indigenous Sign Language), martial arts, and yoga. Her first book project, Bodies as Battlegrounds, Institutions as War: Native American Choreographies in Confinement, historically and politically contextualizes dance, theatrical productions, basketball, and/or yoga at four sites on Lakota lands: a former Indian boarding school, men and women’s prisons, and a tribal juvenile hall. Her writings have been translated into French and Portuguese and appear in academic journals and books. In addition to her research, she is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief for Race and Yoga, the first peer-reviewed and open-access journal in the emerging field of critical yoga studies.

In 2023, Professor Blu Wakpa’s article, “From Buffalo Dance to Tatanka Kcizapi Wakpala, 1894-2020: Indigenous Human and More-than-Human Choreographies of Sovereignty and Survival,” won the American Society for Theatre Research’s Gerald Kahan Scholar’s Prize “for the best essay written and published in English in a refereed scholarly journal or edited collection.” This same year, she was named the Fulbright Association’s Selma Jeanne Cohen Dance Lecture Awardee. She has held major fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Fulbright Program, the Hellman Fellows Fund, and the UC President’s Postdoctoral Program. At UCLA, several entities have supported her research: the Academic Senate, the Center for the Study of Women, the Institute of American Cultures, the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and the School of the Arts and Architecture.

Professor Blu Wakpa engages with people and organizations at UCLA, in Los Angeles, and throughout the U.S. At UCLA, she is affiliated with the American Indian Studies Center and the Center for Community Engagement and serves as the Community Engagement Council representative for the Institute of American Cultures. She has taught a wide range of interdisciplinary and community-engaged classes at public, private, tribal, and carceral institutions and collaborated with California tribal and Lakota people on exhibitions and performances. For her pedagogical projects that bridge the academy and off-campus communities, she has received support from the University of California Humanities Research Institute, UCLA’s Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Scholars and Center for the Advancement of Teaching, and the University of Pittsburg’s Radical Teacher Fellowship. In 2023, the mayor appointed her to the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission. She currently serves on three boards in Los Angeles that further culturally relevant education and opportunities for Native children in grades K-12.


Indigenous dance and performance, Native American athletics, Indigenous martial arts, North American Hand Talk (Indigenous Sign Language), human and more-than-human interconnections, critical dance studies, critical yoga studies, Native American education and incarceration, community-engaged research, decolonizing methodologies, creative writing

Creative Practice & Research

Recent courses include: World Dance Histories, Introduction to Dance Studies, Theories of Dance/Performance, Dance: Colonization and Confinement, Dance and Decolonization: The Politics and Possibilities of Native American Dance, and Professional Development for Doctoral Students

Peer Reviewed Articles

Blu Wakpa, Tria. “Aging Women of Color and Radical Movements: The Limitations and Possibilities of Embodied Practices for Radical Self-Love.” Scholar & Feminist Online 19, no. 1 (Summer 2023).

Roth, Sammy and Tria Blu Wakpa. “Performativity, Possibility, and Land Acknowledgements in Academia: Community-Engaged Work as Decolonial Praxis in the COVID-19 Context.” Performance Matters 8, no. 2 (2023): 72-93.

Blu Wakpa, Tria. “From Buffalo Dance to Tatanka Kcizapi Wakpala, 1894-2020: Indigenous Human and More-than-Human Choreographies of Sovereignty and Survival.” American Quarterly 74, no. 4 (December 2022): 895-920.

Mattingly, Kate and Tria Blu Wakpa. “Movement as Medicine and Screendance as Survivance: Indigenous Reclamation and Innovation during COVID-19.” The International Journal of Screendance 12 (2021): 150-188.

Blu Wakpa, Tria. “Challenging Settler Colonial Choreographies During COVID-19: Acosia Red Elk’s Powwow Yoga.” Critical Stages/Scénes 23 (June 2021).

Blu Wakpa, Tria, and George Blue Bird. “Zintkala Woihanbla (Bird Dreams): Drifting and Other Decolonial Performances for Survival and Prison Abolition.” Urdimento - Revista de Estudos em Artes Cênica 3, no. 39 (November-December 2020): 1-35.

Blu Wakpa, Tria. “Culture Creators and Interconnected Individualism: Rulan Tangen and Anne Pesata’s Basket Weaving Dance.” Dance Research Journal 48, no. 1 (April 2016): 107-125.

Blu Wakpa, Tria. “A Constellation of Confinement: The Jailing of Cecelia Capture and the Deaths of Sarah Lee Circle Bear and Sandra Bland, 1895-2015.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 40, no. 1 (2016): 161-183.

Book Chapters

Blu Wakpa, Tria. “Popularizing ‘American-ness.’” In Dance in US Popular Culture, edited by Jennifer Atkins, 314-326. New York: Routledge, 2023.

Blu Wakpa, Tria and Jennifer Musial. “Going Carceral? Analyzing Written and Visual Representations of Prison Yoga Programs.” In Carceral Liberalism: Feminist Voices Against State Violence, edited by Shreerekha Pillai, 166-189. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2023.

Blu Wakpa, Tria. “Indigenous Dances: Lakota Bodies and Lands on and as the Frontlines,” In Milestones in Dance History, edited by Dana Tai Soon Burgess, 1-36. London: Routledge, 2023.

Blu Wakpa, Tria. “A Glint of Decolonial Love? An Academic Mother’s Meditation on Navigating and Leveraging the Ivory Tower.” In Indigenous Motherhood in the Academy, edited by Robin Minthorn, Christine Nelson, and Heather Shotton, 111-124. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2022.

Blu Wakpa, Tria. “Hozho Yoga: Indigenous Movements Illuminating Human and More-than-Human Interconnections.” In Practicing Yoga as Resistance: Voices of Color in Search of Freedom, edited by Cara Hagen, 133-155. London: Routledge, 2021.


Ph.D., Ethnic Studies Department, University of California, Berkeley, 2017

M.A., Ethnic Studies Department, University of California, Berkeley, 2012

M.F.A., Department of English and Comparative Literature, San Diego State University, 2009

B.A., Summa Cum Laude, English Department, Oklahoma State University, 2003

In the News

UCLA Center for Community Engagement, "Working Reciprocally with Tribal Community Partners: Faculty Highlight – Dr. Tria Blu Wakpa"

Dance Magazine, “Evolving Tradition With the Fusion of Hip Hop and Native American Dance”

UCLA World Arts and Cultures/Dance Faculty Spotlight

Dance Magazine, “The Advice That Changed My Career: 7 Pros on Their Favorite Words of Wisdom”

UCLA Women’s History Month Faculty Spotlight

UCLA Newsroom, “Reflecting on COVID-19: A year in the pandemic life”

UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, “100 FOR 100: JESSA CALDERON AND TRIA BLU WAKPA”

The Occidental, “Behind Bars: Native Americans connect with their culture in prisons”

UCLA World Arts and Cultures/Dance Faculty Spotlight