Native American dancing a short and simple explanation
Dancing has always been important in the lives of Native Americans. Many dances have significant spiritual meaning. Some dances are held to guarantee the success of hunts, harvests, giving thanks, and other celebrations; while other dances are to tell stories. Lots of dances involve prayer and/or spiritual awareness.
In warmer weather dancing is done in an open field, sometimes around a fire. Usually it was done at night when the temperatures were cooler. In the winter dancing was done in a large structure.
Movements of the people dancing provide the on lookers/visiting guest with an idea of the purpose of the dance; whether the dance is expressing prayer, victory, thanks, story telling, celebration, courting, sadness, initiation and more. Sometimes a specific individual would lead the dance. Participants might include the entire tribe/clan, or would be specific to men, women, or families
Dancing continues to be an important part of the Native American culture. Some dances are regional or tribal specific and the singers usually perform in their native languages. Depending upon the dance, sometimes visiting guest are welcomed to join in and sometimes they may just watch, while at other times the ceremonies are private.
Most dances seen at powwows today are social dances which might have had different meanings in earlier days. Although dance styles and content have changed, their meaning and importance have not. The ceremonial outfits worn by the dancers, just like the styles of clothing today, have evolved over time.
For many Native Americans, powwow's are much more than just entertainment and socialization; It has a deeper spiritual meaning and is a time for prayer. It is also a way to honor the spiritual connection to their ancestors and all our relations.
Dances and songs often tell stories of historical events important to Native Americans. Some are tribe-specific, yet they can have more than one tribe laying claim to ownership.
The Sneak Up is an ancient storytelling dance having several origins. In one version, a warrior acts out a battle where the enemy spots him, so he has to begin the attack anew. Another version involves a hunter telling the actions of hunting and stalking game . His prey spots him, and he has to try again. The third version enacts a warrior in battle. He searches for a wounded friend, and upon finding him, he brings the friend to safety. Notice that when the drum beats fast, dancers lower themselves closer to the ground to hide, and then survey the area, checking for potential dangers. The regalia is often thought to represent the animals that the Creator put on the earth. The regalia is a very personal expression of creativity and artistry. While there is no prescribed look, several elements might reflect items worn by early warriors: animal bones or shell for protection against arrows or a shield made of hide and decorated with important tribal symbols. Sometimes a traditional dancer will wear a single bustle containing eagle feathers, which are considered sacred to the Native American people. The eagle flies the highest and carries the prayers of the people to the Creator. Eagle feathers are traditionally awarded for feats of bravery or accomplishment. For the most part only men (warriors) perform the Sneak-Up Dance, it also was a way to teach young boys how to surprise prey or an enemy.
The Duck and Dive
There seems to be a general consensus that the song and dance is a warrior’s song which likely originated with the Nez Perce depicting their two-day battle with the U.S. Army at Big Hole, Montana, in August 1877.
The Duck and Dive is a traditional men’s song that involves men dancing fully upright at first but then quickly shifting to crouching positions as if in a defensive battle stance.The duck and dive was done as a way to recount a battle. When the war party would hear the loud shot of the bullets (symbolized by the hard beats of the drum) they would duck to make them miss. The surviving warriors came back to camp and gave this account.
More specific dance explanations to come...
Things you will see happening in and around the dance (sacred) circle.
You will see people (dancers) standing along the inside edge of the dance (sacred) circle this is a position of Honoring. They are honoring the person(s) who are dancing or objects that are in the middle of the dance (sacred) circle.
You will see people (dancers) put an arm up with a fist, feather(s) or other objects. People will fist bump each other. Both of these are a symbol of honor and respect.
You will see most people dance clockwise which is traditional for most tribes, but not all. You may also see some people dance counter clockwise or even back and forth, these are okay too. There are many tribes from all over Turtle Island with many different ways to dance, they all do not dance the same way.
Clothing and footwear
Regalia means clothing. Before invasion, colonization and the churches; there were many different tribes and they had many different ways to dress.
Some wore foot coverings all of the time and others did not, some only during cold weather. At the Pow Wow you will see some people wearing footwear and some not. Both is okay, no one is required to wear any kind of foot covering at our Pow Wow.
Some tribes were covered neck to ankle in coverings (clothes) and some were not, some only had coverings for the area between the hips and the thighs and did not have coverings for the upper torso, this included woman. After invasion, colonization and the churches most members of tribes did not have access to traditional animal made coverings. And the churches had strict dress codes. So, Native people adapted their clothing to what was available, trade cloth, and what was acceptable. You will see some people wearing regalia made of leather, others wearing regalia made out of cloth, also many people will be in every day modern clothing. Some people will be covered neck to toe and others with have very little on. You are not required to have any special covering to join us at the Pow Wow or to enter into the dance circle.
You may see mothers breastfeeding their babies and you may see toddlers in just diapers. This is acceptable and natural.
What you should not see happening in and around the dance (scared) circle and on the Pow Wow grounds.
Anyone with or using alcohol, illegal drugs, including cannabis (it is federally illegal) , and firearms. These are violations for immediate removal from the Pow Wow grounds.
You should be clear of mind for the safety of yourself and others, so that you can make sound judgments and decisions and not put yourself or others in danger.
You will not see woman totally topless, because it is not socially acceptable and it is illegal in the state of New Hampshire.
You should not see anyone practicing any other form of religion or spirituality. This includes, but not limited to, Christianity, Catholicism, Paganism , Wiccan, Polytheism, Buddhism and Hinduism. This is to honor Native American spirituality before invasion, colonization and the churches, as much as possible. Many things are not possible for many reasons, but we at Honoring of the Elders do our best.
This a is non-competitive, family oriented, Inter Tribal Pow Wow.
Celebrating the pre-colonization traditions as much as possible.
We don't have any competitions or allow any. For example we do not have competitive dancing for prize money. We do not allow money pegging of the dancers.
We do not have Head dancers. We believe that if there is no one with a physical body in the dance circle then the song being played is for our spiritual ancestors. No one needs to be in the dance circle except for our spiritual ancestors. This means no needs to be in the dance circle at all times during drumming to hold space.
We do not pay any of the dancers or drums to participate. We do however collect donations via a blanket dance and raffle to help the drums with their travel expenses.
We do not have people who want to dance register or wear numbers.
We do not require fancy regalia or traditional ceremonial clothing to dance. You will see plenty of people without fancy clothing dancing. We do not require footwear.
The dance circle also known as the scared circle is not an arena or stage. It is not a place of performance for means of entertainment. It is a place of prayer, healing, celebration and education.
The ropes around the dance (scared) circle are not to keep anyone out, but to designated the area that has been blessed, smudged and energized with positive healing energy and everyone is welcome. We do ask that you enter the dance (scared) circle from the eastern gate and do not go under the ropes. Going under the ropes would be like climbing into the window of a church, you just won't do it.
You do not need to be Native American to join us in the dance (scared) circle. We ask that if you want to join us that you enter the dance (scared) circle with only positive intentions.
There is smudging offered by our fire keepers. Smudging is a form of cleansing (like a bath) to wash away any negativity. Our Fire keepers are located at the Eastern gate/entrance dance (scared) to the circle. They are more then willing to explain smudging, prayers, and the scared fire.
Our scared Fire is lite Saturday morning with a sunrise ceremony. The fire keeper will keep the fire going for the entire duration of the Pow Wow until after our Honoring of the Elders ceremony Sunday evening. If the fire goes out before then the Pow Wow is over ten the Pow Wow is over and everyone will be asked to leave.
If you would like to give any prayers at the scared fire please inform the fire keeper. He or She will stand by so that you are not interrupted. If you want to give payers and are unsure how to, the fire keeper can explain how to according to his/her ways and help guide you.
Do not place cigarette butts and other trash into the scared fire.
There are things we just don't have the means to do but, we do your best to honor our ancestors and their traditions from before colonization and all our Elders past and present.