A universal dance among all tribal nations, it welcomes all visitors and guests to the host tribe. The Friendship Dance expresses goodwill and friendship among all humankind.
Harvest Dance or Bean Dance
This recognizes the importance of the resources of life; food for the villages for the coming year. The Harvest Dance, or Bean Dance, gives thanks to the Great Spirit for the abundance of food and the bountiful crops.
The women of the tribe lead this significant dance with their graceful movements; it is a tribute to those who have gone before us and their shadowy forms that are unseen. The Swan Dance depicts the graceful movement of birds, especially the most majestic of all water birds.
Buffalo Head Dance
Originally a traditional religious dance, it has been adapted for general public view. It is often performed after a successful hunt as a thanksgiving to the Creator and to the magnificent animal, the buffalo. The songs and the movement of the dancers create the special place for the Lord of the Plains. This dance is dedicated to the enduring spirit of the buffalo.
Reserved for individuals who are the protectors of the people, it is an esprit de corps (pride) of the nation. The Pipe Dance honors the warriors for their bravery and heroism during times of conflict.
Whenever the allied tribes came together for council or celebration, they often exchanged elements of cultural value. The Shawnee Dance was given as a token of friendship to the Meskwaki from the Shawnee Tribe in Oklahoma. The five tribes who were closely associated historically in language and traditional ways were the Shawnee, Mascouten, Kickapoo, Sauk and Fox (Meskwaki) Nations.
Whenever a gathering of tribal groups of Indians took place, each group or tribe performed their own special dance. This dance performed by the Meskwaki, depicts their characteristics in times of peace and war.
In pantomime, this dance depicts battle skills in hand-to-hand combat. The Shield Dance was adopted from the Southern Plains Indians in the 1940’s as a recognition of contact in earlier times with the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Comanche.
Victory or SOLDIERS Dance
This dance is dedicated to all people of the armed forces and it is a dance to honor each veteran who has returned home to their loved ones. It originated after the first World War.
A generic dance often performed by anyone in costume during the main performance dances; it is a “break dance”.
Strictly a social dance, it is popular among all tribes and can last for hours; it is also called the “two step.” The Rabbit Dance was borrowed from the Sioux Indians.
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. Although there are many styles, some of them include:
Men’s Traditional: This is one of the oldest dance styles, often “animal” in nature. Movements 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.
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.