This section is for new dancers, who have not grown up around the pow-wow arena. Many tribes did not originally take part in pow-wows, particularly those living in the eastern United States. However, today, many descendants of these tribes are wanting to enter the dance arena. It would be best to learn from an Indian who has been around the pow-wow arena a long time. However, some of these people have no family or friends to learn the ropes from, as those of us in "Indian Country" have. So be very wary of listening to anyone who dyes their hair black, calls themselves names like "Pale Moon Dove" or "Two Bears Standing", or in any other way doesn't seem legitimate. They probably aren't. For those of you who don't have anyone to learn from, here are a few tips to help you along.
When new dancers are getting ready to enter the pow-wow arena, there are several things that they should be aware of, and traditions that they should follow. It is of the utmost importance to be sure that you are dancing, dressing, and following traditions properly. Real Indians donít just "jump in".
Dancers who are new to the pow-wow circuit should always discuss their regalia ideas with experienced pow-wow dancers before starting on anything, to be sure that the regalia they are planning to put together will be correct. Leave the cheap white & black-dipped "eagle" feathers, cheap beadwork, and pseudo-Indian-looking stuff to the "wanna-bees". They donít belong on real Indian regalia, and are sure to be the subject of mocking and ridicule from other dancers and on-lookers. Schedule your vacation to attend one of the really big pow-wows, or one in "Indian Country", before you start on your regalia. See the "Links" Section for links to a few of these.
There are excellent (and legal ) realistic imitation hawk and eagle feathers available from traders at pow-wows, or by mail-order, for those who donít have access to the real feathers. Turkey or macaw feathers also make beautiful fans. Many Indian ladies carry macaw fans. These alternatives are a safe bet for those who are not card-carrying members of a Federally Recognized tribe. Be aware that Fish & Game officers occasionally (often) attend pow-wows outside of "Indian Country", looking for real eagle & hawk feathers used by folks who are not obviously Indian, and checking that those people have a legal right to use them. If you are stopped, at the very least, they will confiscate your feathers. At worst, they could arrest you, and the fines can be thousands of dollars. Donít risk it. We know non-registered people that this has happened to, and they were prosecuted and fined HEAVILY. And donít even THINK about buying real eagle or hawk feathers from someone selling them. Agents might be watching them, and if they are caught, youíll be in hot water too.
Complete and proper full regalia often costs a great deal of time and/or money. For example, a manís roach now runs over $300, and banded-selvedge wool broadcloth runs around $75 per yard. Southern buckskin beaded dresses will run over $4000. If you arenít prepared to invest at least a few hundred dollars, stick with nice ribbon shirts and shawls. They are always acceptable, and are infinitely more respectful than wearing a half-baked attempt at regalia. Those who arenít of Indian descent donít usually dress in regalia unless they are married-to or adopted-by an Indian, but it is perfectly acceptable for anyone to wear a nice ribbon shirt or ladies pow-wow shawl.
When entering the pow-wow dance arena in regalia for the first time, most Indians "pay their way into the arena" with a formal "special" or give-away. If you are not of a Plains Indian tribe, you may not be required by your own tribal traditions to have a formal giveaway, but most dancers entering the circle today do anyway. If you are not required to and choose not to have a formal giveaway, you will still want to honor the tradition of "paying your way into the arena" with sincere and generous gifts of cash, food, and/or shawls/blankets to the organization sponsoring the dance, and singers at the drum. It is a privilege to dance in the circle, and honoring traditions is the Indian Way, even if it isnít YOUR tradition. Remember that with Indians, it isnít how wealthy you are, but how generous you are that counts.
If you are going to have a giveaway, you need to plan for it well in advance and spread out the purchase or making of your gifts so you donít get in a crunch. Bed blankets and Mexican serapes are common and appreciated gifts. Nice shawls are always an honor to receive. Pendleton blankets and star quilts (or any handmade quilt) are the modern equivalent of a buffalo robe as gifts, and are a great honor to the recipient. Cash is always a welcome gift and people often give $5 or $10 along with a blanket or shawl. A small item or gift usually accompanies a gift of cash in any amount. If you know the recipient well, a more personal gift chosen for that particular person is appropriate (a favorite color, an item of regalia, etc.)
Another popular item for giveaway or raffle at pow-wows is a new laundry basket piled high with groceries. When thinking of gifts, keep in mind that Indians are always cooking and feeding people, and those who are on the pow-wow circuit travel and camp often. The host drum will normally be given cash collected from your "special dance", along with a carton or two of cigarettes, sometimes a shawl or good blanket (which can be raffled to raise money) and sometimes small token gifts such as handkerchiefs, throat lozenges, guest towels, and the like. When planning your giveaway, remember that without the singers at the drum, there would be no pow-wow.
You will normally want to give nice gifts to the Head Man and Head Lady Dancers, Head Gourd Dancer (if any), any Little Boy or Little Girl Head Dancers, Emcee, Arena Directors, Head Singer, Head Gourd Dance Singer (if any), the Host Drum (the singers themselves), the Princess (if any), and the Host Organization (who is holding the dance). You can usually look on the flyers to see who will be filling these positions.
Other people who also commonly receive gifts during a giveaway are the ladies who sing with the center drum, any other drum(s) on the perimeter, an honored elder, and anyone else who is a prominent person in the community or has been a personal friend or supporter of the person having the giveaway. Another common practice is to set housewares, fabric, blankets, or similar items on the ground around the arena, and then invite ladies in the audience to pick the items in the arena. If you are a spectator who picks up a gift from the arena in this manner, be sure to go directly up to the speaker stand and shake hands with the people who are having the giveaway. You can also send someone around the arena passing out items to people in the audience. And the children will scramble joyfully when someone scatters five to ten pounds of wrapped candies throughout the arena (be sure to have enough so that every child can get some). This is the only time when children are allowed to run around the arena.
Now that you have an idea of how much time, money, and planning is invested in coming into the arena, you can appreciate what goes into making regalia and having a giveaway. This is by no means a quick, cheap, or casual undertaking. People often plan giveaways a year in advance, and entire families often help with gathering the gifts. Be sure to thank anyone who honors you by giving you something for you to use for your giveaway. Be sure to consult with an experienced pow-wow person before planning anything, because there are other things to consider once your time is near, such as who will speak for you and your family during your special.
Besides entering the arena, there are many other reasons to have a special/giveaway, such as returning to the arena after a period of mourning for a close relative (often 1 year), a marriage, graduation, birthday, anniversary, honor received, return from military duty, etc.
Onlookers and other dancers may not pay any attention to you if youíre not dancing correctly while wearing street clothes. But you can be certain that once you put on regalia, people will be watching you.
* You must be in full regalia to dance in the Grand Entry, also called Parade-In. The only exception is for people who are members of a host organization or honored guests. Gourd dancers will wear their velvet sashes and bandoliers, and blankets if they have them.
* It is important to be IN STEP during Grand Entry so that all the traditional dancers in the line are in unison. Watch the Head Man/Head Lady Dancers and the experienced dancers. Match your left and right footsteps to their steps.
* Be sure that your steps match the leader in a line of round-dancers. Donít start your own line. Leave that to the Head Lady Dancer, or other experienced dancers. Inexperienced dancers should fall in down the line.
* After Grand Entry, men do not enter the arena until the Head Man Dancer has entered. Women dancers do not enter the arena until the Head Lady Dancer has entered.
* Stay in time with the drum. Your foot should touch the floor exactly on the hard honor beats. Watch the experienced dancers. During a round-dance or two-step, your left foot should hit the ground on the hard beat. Listen for a hard/long beat alternating with a soft/short beat to identify a round-dance song.
SONGS & DRUMS
SOUTHERN DRUMS VS NORTHERN DRUMS A host southern drum is normally set in the center of the arena in the Oklahoma area. They may or may not be in the center in other regions. Northern drums are always on the perimeter of the arena. Southern songs are sung in lower menís voices, with the ladies joining in towards the last of a "verse". Northern songs are sung in a much higher voice range, and are often faster than southern songs. The ladies often join in with these songs also.
Most songs consist of a verse that is repeated 4 times. A Grand Entry song may be sung many more times if there are a lot of dancers to enter the arena. A head singer starts the song, and he is "seconded" by another singer. The whole drum group finished the verse, and then this sequence is repeated 3 more times. Listen for 4 "starts".
Southern songs usually have 3 HONOR BEATS in the middle of each verse. Northern songs lack the set of 3 honor beats, but will have "hard" honor beats within the song. Either way, your feet should hit the floor on the hard beats. Ladies dancing in northern buckskin and jingle dress styles may "bless the crowd" by waving their eagle feather fans on the honor beats during northern songs. Experience will tell you teach you how to tell when a song is ending, or listen for 4 "starts".
Ladies dancing in exhibition or contest dances to a southern drum should "bow" on the honor beats. This means to gracefully bend forward on the last of the three honor beats. Continue dancing with small steps and keep your shawl fringe swinging in time. Some ladies may go right, then left. Stay down until the verse is about to end, and then slowly come up just before the next verse is started.
While the pow-wow arena is a sacred circle, it is also a place of laughter, friends and family, and an excellent place to raise children. There are always a few sour-pusses around who may try to discourage a new dancer, but these people are best ignored. If you are dressed properly, dancing correctly, and following the traditional protocol, you can enter the arena with confidence.
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