Traditional dance parties
August 1, 2011 7:07 PM   Subscribe

A modern day pow wow is a Native American social gathering for dancing, singing, and honoring customs and traditions.

There are several different styles of dancing at a pow wow.

Mens: Womens: The drum is the center of the pow wow. It is highly respected as it is seen as a link to the Creator and as a way of hearing the heartbeat of Mother Earth. There are two types of singing: Northern and Southern. Northern style features higher pitched singing while Southern is lower. Honor beats are the loud drum beats throughout a song that tell the dancers to honor the drum. The dancers acknowledge these by raising what they are holding or by bowing to the drum (depending on the dance style). Here is an Online Radio with plenty of examples of both styles.

Also a previous thread on pow wow images.
posted by Deflagro (18 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Good post! Pow wow history is super interesting too. Looking forward to exploring these links.
posted by Miko at 7:16 PM on August 1, 2011

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to
where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop, a nest of many
nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.


Also, the voice of the drum is an offering to the Spirit of the World. Its sound arouses the mind and makes men feel the mystery and power of things.

-Black Elk Speaks
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:49 PM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wait! They're allowed to separate the women from the men? And we're not protesting that rank sexism?
posted by fredludd at 8:25 PM on August 1, 2011

I have been to pow wows in Toronto and Chicago, and I have always had a good time. I especially enjoy the northern-style singing.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:30 PM on August 1, 2011

Wait! They're allowed to separate the women from the men? And we're not protesting that rank sexism?

Well, the Olympics are also divided along gender lines. Are you going to protest that gathering and series of contests too for its sexism?

Even worse, in the Olympics, often the events are completely identical except for the separation according to sex. At least the Native American dance competitions are non-congruent in content.
posted by hippybear at 8:37 PM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

You forgot Hip Hop Pow Wow.
posted by unliteral at 9:15 PM on August 1, 2011

It just so happens I finally went to my first pow wow Saturday night, and was given some handy etiquette* advice by a pow wow veteran:

- For women: Don't go out into the dance arena with bare arms and legs; you must cover your arms with a shawl and carry a feather fan.
- If you are invited to dance, it is rude to refuse.
- Do not point at people or take their picture without permission.
- Try the frybread.

* Standard caveats apply. I'm so white I'm practically transparent, so I make no claim to this being a complete or always true list. Rule No. 2 appears to override Rule No. 1, at least in my extremely limited observation.
posted by Soliloquy at 9:17 PM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ooh, I love fancy dancing.
posted by Roachbeard at 9:50 PM on August 1, 2011

Sexism rides a little deeper and is a big part of tribal culture. I once spoke with a woman in Billings. Montana about her work on the reservations. She was stunned to find out that if a woman left the reservation left the rez to better her life she was not allowed back in. That began to blow up any romantic notions I had of Natives. I thought that was pretty extreme.

Other tribes burn down sweat-lodges if they find out if a woman doing a sweat was menstruating. They believe that the lodge is dirty.

I was one who diefied Native Traditions for awhile. Made sense to study and understand a spirituality that is native the land I was born on. Humility and respect is a big part of the teaching. While people tend to romanticize Natives and native ways, they are figuring things out and evolving like we all are.

If there is one spiritual teaching they impart to whites or "wachisu", it's "Shut the f*ck up and listen"

Pow-wows are a blast. Haven't been to one in years. I remember one MC kept announcing, "Heeeere comes the whipman. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about and thought he said this to keep the kids in line. Frybreads I had were great. You also need a strong stomach for them.
posted by goalyeehah at 11:48 PM on August 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wait! They're allowed to separate the women from the men? And we're not protesting that rank sexism?

You've got the wrong drum circle there.
posted by srboisvert at 4:42 AM on August 2, 2011

I drove out to Oklahoma this summer for my first pow wow- the Red Earth Festival. The costumes and dancing were incredible. The highlight of the day was trying an Indian taco for the first time (and following that with some pumpkin bread pudding). So delicious.
posted by quiet coyote at 5:07 AM on August 2, 2011

Has anybody here watched Circle of the Sun?
posted by bukvich at 5:22 AM on August 2, 2011

She was stunned to find out that if a woman left the reservation left the rez to better her life she was not allowed back in. That began to blow up any romantic notions I had of Natives. I thought that was pretty extreme.

There are a lot of different kinds of Native Americans, lots of different traditions and cultures, lots of different ways in which they've all pretty much been completely fucked by colonization and history.

For instance, I went to a college with a strong Native presence, and it was on the pow wow circuit. A lot of my friends were Native women; a lot of them grew up on reservations; a lot of them had left the rez, and a lot them went home regularly, and had plans to return once they were done with college and/or grad school.

I missed the local pow wow this year, which makes me sad. Great dancing, great fry bread. Next year!
posted by rtha at 6:12 AM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Has anybody here watched Circle of the Sun?

No, thanks for this! I'm an utterly acculturated descendant of a Blood woman. (great great grandmother)
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:34 AM on August 2, 2011

She was stunned to find out that if a woman left the reservation left the rez to better her life she was not allowed back in.

Like rtha, I know a fair number of Native people, and I can't say that any of the other women I know have had this experience.I'm working with four Native women right now, all of whom do work on the reservation, and visit family and institutions there, while also working in tribal cultural centers, colleges, and museums in cities.

In addition to "shut up and listen," the other thing that Native people would love to have penetrate the consciousness of the dominant culture is that there is no one Native worldview. Native groups are as different and as alike one another as people from all over the various nations of Europe. Beliefs about gender, war and peace, religion, home and family, and anything else humans might have opinions on vary widely. One of the beauties of powwow, in fact (as well as one of its historical detriments) is that it's pan-Indian, indeed like a world Olympics of dance and music that brings together a diversity of people to participate in a set of commonly shared performance styles.

With regard to sexism in traditional cultures, certainly it exists, just as it exists in the dominant culture. I think we can be critical of sexism while at the same time recognizing that we aren't the right people to agitate for change in cultural communities that aren't our own and that we don't understand and aren't organized according to a set of civil principles we who are party to it have mutually agreed to uphold. I'm sure that Native American feminists think multidimensionally about pow wow - oh look, they do, and among the things they are concerned with is privileging women's performances within powwow to the same degree as men's performances, access to the center big drum,and other issues we as outsiders probably couldn't identify, let alone articulate. I also wonder if pow wow for Native women can function as it often did in earlier times for all Natives, bringing together groups who didn't have too many opportunities to meet otherwise for discussion and identification of common cause. I'd love to know more about it.

As a feminist, I don't think it's my place so much to condemn a tradition outside of my own culture as much as to work to eradicate sexism within my own culture, and to find human-rights concerns which I share with women of all backgrounds - freedom, suffrage, safety, legal personhood - and support them in their own fights which they identify according to their own set of cultural values.
posted by Miko at 6:36 AM on August 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

FWIW, when I said that my romantic notion was blown, my human notions weren't.

I worked with a Native who really helped me get my act together. When he visited town he was sponsored by a group I was involved with, predominantly female and feminist-charged. Word came from Washington state that he was beating his wife. The group turned on him like a pack of wolves despite the fact that it was hear-say and not proven. I was torn.

While my time with him was not pleasant, I realized that he fed me, gave me a bed to sleep in, had me work for my keep yet also gave me the time to rest as he knew I was in a bad way. He also prayed for me.

I thought about and realized that even if this is true when I was in his presence I did not see this and he treated me with the respect I deserved. He helped me. I told the group that I would stand by him.

From my perspective, I think that was the first mature thing I ever did in my life.

What little I have learned through them (and Marshall specifically) has gotten me through some hard times.

Call the spade a spade. And continue to learn how to live together.

And I am well aware that I have made two posts that can be considered contradictory to each other
posted by goalyeehah at 9:48 AM on August 2, 2011

- Do not point at people or take their picture without permission.

Also, if there are tents and chairs set up? Those are set up by dancers and friends and family and regulars- they're not there for you to run into and sit, and they're not there for you to step in front of to take pictures and ogle.

Often, the more tightly packed the tents, the more likely that particular powwow has had ignorant guests acting extra rude, and the "wall" is built to limit that kind of asshole-ish behavior.
posted by yeloson at 10:49 AM on August 2, 2011

I'm really glad to know you're expected to dance if invited. I generally do respond to those beckoning hands but I often wonder if it's really OK for me to be there.
posted by Miko at 1:30 PM on August 2, 2011

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