There are over 500 Nations which make up Indian Country with each tribe creating its own interpretation of regalia and dance styles showcased during a powwow.
Some of the elaborate outfit pieces you see today at our powwow have been passed down from generation to generation. It typically takes many years to build, sew,
and/or acquire the majestic pieces you see today.
Whether recently created, purchased, or passed down, each piece has been painstakingly hand-created and has a story to tell of both historical significance and individual creativity.
The making of powwow dance regalia is an art form all its own and is one of the most powerful symbols of a dancer’s Native identity; a visible manifestation of one’s heritage.
Similarly, powwow songs/dance styles have been passed down from generation to generation too. It is the multiplicity of elements and stories that come together in one place, at one
time, that makes a powwow so special. While you watch some of the most beautiful dancing on earth, watch for certain similarities that can be seen with each dance style.
Dance techniques/styles are generally divided into men’s and women’s categories. As the dancers utilize different movements to demonstrate the story they are telling you,
you’ll notice crouching, tracking, aiming, swaying, twirling, dashing about and so on. Dancers listen very carefully for certain drumbeats and bend, bounce, leap, or tap
in time with the music. During “competition” powwow dancing (sometimes called a “special”), dancers are judged on these movements.
It may look easy enough, but when wearing regalia upwards of 40 lbs or more, certain movements require a lot of strength, good balance and breath control.
Dancers must be in top physical condition to execute the tricky footwork and movements that accompany his/her dance style.
The Meskwaki people have a distinct style of regalia that can be identified with elaborate ribbon appliqué skirts, abstract floral beadwork for both men
and women, woven yarn belts and one-piece pucker-toe moccasins. These elements can be applied to all of the different dance styles you will see during your visit today.
Men's Traditional: This is one of the oldest dance styles, often “animal” in nature. There are many variations included in the traditional style, representing different regions (Norther, Southern, etc.). Movements generally represent that of a hunter/gatherer or are action oriented, such as battling an enemy. Men will wear breast plates made of bones to protect against arrows, chokers to protect against knives, or shields decorated with symbols associated with their clan or tribe.
Men's Grass Style: This is considered a “traditional” style of dance. Men usually wear an outfit of long fringes made of yard, leather, ribbons or some sort of fiber (not feathers) and the smooth movements of the dance tell a story to mimic the movements of tall grass in the wind or to interpret a dancer’s vision of what the song is saying to them.
Men's Chicken Dance: Depicted by the prevalent use of feathers, dancers wear feather bustles on the upper back using vibrant colors to highlight their designs and feather work. Their movements can be distinguished by movements reminiscent of the prairie chicken mating dance.
Men's Fancy: Colorful bustles are worn on the back for this modern dance style. These dancers are athletes and their dance demands a high level of knowledge, songs, movements and stamina. Dancers will often carry a decorated coup stick or mirror. The feathers on their head are supposed to be constantly moving throughout the song.
Women's Shawl or Fancy: This is a more modern dance style which many people say reflect the beating wings of birds or butterflies emerging from a cocoon. There are contemporary and old style fancy shawl dancers. The shawl, worn over the shoulders, shows amazing artwork. The movements are very athletic and can be just as fast as the men’s fancy dance.
Women's Jingle: This is the most distinguishable style. Spectators can see and hear the jingles or rolled metal cones moving against each other making a unique sound. There is a story about how the jingle dress came to be... “google” it!
Women's Traditional: The oldest dance form for the ladies. Women hold themselves tall and proud, with their bodies straight and often dance in a circle pattern. The dance originates at a time when women stood outside the arena and kept time with their feet. Dancers sometimes carry a shawl draped over their arm and/or feathered fan in their hand. With the stronger, louder and slower beats heard in the song, they lift their feather fan to show pride and appreciation for the Creator’s blessings.