Powwows have a long and lively history

October 09, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Powwows boast deep historical roots, going back to the early to mid-19th century when huge summer gatherings of tribes were held on the American plains. Tribes took note of the lively dance performed by the Heluska society of the Omaha in Nebraska, added their own variations to the dance, and passed the tradition down through the generations, according to information from the National Museum of the American Indian.

Then and now, the drum played a central role in the powwow. American Indians believe that the drum brings the heartbeat of Earth Mother to the gathering, connects all present with Spirit, and brings everyone back into balance. Honor Beats, or loud drum beats during the songs, are times for dancers to honor the drum.

One host drum group generally leads the drumming at a powwow, showcasing the best example of the Northern or Southern style of singing. Stoney Creek - a Northern-style group from the Haliwa-Saponi, Lumbee, Waccamaw-Siouan and Coharie tribes of North Carolina - will serve as the host drum for this weekend's powwow, event organizer Barry Richardson says.


Dancers will compete in dance and regalia categories, including:

  • Women's Traditional Dance, which is broken into the buckskin and cloth groups. Buckskin, the oldest form of women's dance style, is slow and graceful in both groups.

  • Men's Northern Traditional Dance. This oldest form of American Indian dancing has evolved from the old-time Sioux style of the early reservation period through the 1940s. The dancer is said to be re-enacting the movement of a warrior searching for the enemy.

  • Men's Southern Traditional Dance. Often called the Straight Dance from Oklahoma, this formal and coordinated dance represents solidity. Smoothness, precision, know-ledge of dance etiquette and a powerful sense of pride mark the outstanding straight dancers.

  • Oklahoma Feather Dance. Such fancy regalia as loom-beaded armbands, medallions and breastplates and the use of large feather bustles define this dance, in which participants either do simple steps around the drum or fast and intricate footwork combined with spinning.

  • Women's Fancy Shawl. In this newest form of women's dance, dancers use intricate shawls and quick but graceful movements to mimic the flight of butterflies.

  • Jingle, or Prayer, Dress. A Chippewa medicine man's spirit guides showed him this dress in a dream as an object of healing. Jingle dresses, which are decorated with snuff can lids hung with ribbon, make a jingling sound as the dancer moves.

  • Grass Dance. Originally a warrior society dance named for the braided grass worn in the belts of some Northern tribal members, this slick and swinging dance features bells worn around the ankles.
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