The Powwow, Powwow Dances, Powwow Drums Illustration

The Powwow
Native Americans for Kids

A pow-wow is a time of celebration. It's a social gathering of Native Americans from many tribes, and a time to remember customs and traditions. Anyone can attend a pow-wow, but only a real Native American can join in the activities or wear the colorful costumes of their tribes. In Arizona, for example, people from twenty different great Indian tribes - Apache, Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, and others - gather together once a year in Flagstaff, Arizona for one huge Pow-Wow celebration. There are parades and rodeos, war-dances and snake dances, and games of skill.

Guests at a pow-wow gather in a circle. The circle represents unity of life.

Without a drum, there can be no pow-wow. The drum is at the heart of the celebration. Drums signify the heartbeat of the Native American people. Drums are made of hides stretched over a wood frame. Pow-wow drum making is an art, handed down from generation to generation.

Drums set the rhythm for the dances conducted in the circle. To some people, the dances seem very similar, but each dance has its own unique steps. There are Sneak Up Dances and Blanket Dances and all kinds of dances, some for women and some for men. Dances are often competitions with winners decided by judges.

Dances for Men:

The Traditional Dance is probably the oldest. This dance tells the story of a warrior stalking his prey. These dancers usually wear ankle bears to scare their enemy or the animal they are tracking. They carry a shield, a weapon - usually a stick - and paint their face in their tribal designs and colors. By the time these dancers are dressed in their regalias (costumes), they're pretty scary looking, which of course is the purpose.

The Grass Dance also tells a story. By gliding back and forth and taking steps to represent flattening the grass under their feet, these dancers show how camp was set up and how the ground was leveled for comfort before any home - a teepee or a lodge - was set up.

The Fancy Dance takes a true athlete to do well. The Fancy Dance is made up of a series of difficult jumps and twists and lots of fancy footwork done to the beat of the drums. It a reassuring dance. It showcases a warrior's ability to defend and attack the tribe as needed.

Dances for Women:

The Buckskin Dance is probably the oldest. It is a graceful dance and requires a lot of practice and skill to perform the required steps in time with the beat of the drum.

The Fancy Shawl Dance is the story of a butterfly in flight. The steps are complicated and the swirls and twirls must be done, as always, to the precise rhythm of the drum.

The Jingle Dance is a fun one to hear and watch, but it had a very serious purpose. It was danced to heal the sick. Today it is danced to remind the tribe of their myths and legends. The regalias (costumes) are full of little metal cones sewn tightly to the garment. These cones clank together, making quite a noise, to scare away evil spirits.

Pow-wow Etiquette:

The pow-wow has always been an important gathering. Pow-wows are still being called today. Some pow-wows are open to the public. Listen to the announcer. He or she will guide you on what you can and cannot do. Here are some pow-wow manners for tourists.

1. Never enter the circle (which today is called an arena) unless invited.

2. Unless you are a tribe member, or a special guest of the tribe, do not crowd around the circle. The best places are for the tribe. You must stand further away unless invited to stand closer.

3. Never let your pets run wild. Keep them on a leash.

4. Do not take pictures of any dancer in their regalia (costume) unless you ask first.

5. Do not brush up against or touch a dancer's regalia. Regalia's are usually handed down from generation to generation. Some are very old. They are nearly sacred, and have great meaning to the tribe and to the wearer.

6. Do not touch a drum without permission.

7. Always stand during any song. If men are wearing any kind of hat, they need to remove that hat during the song.

8. Do not sit under any canopy unless marked open to the public. These are reserved for the tribe.

9. Do not sit on any blanket or seat that has something on it. These are reserved. If a seat is available and has nothing on it, you can sit there, but it's wise to bring your own blanket or chair.

10. Do not boo the decision of the judges.

11. Unless a teepee, lodge, or permanent structure is marked open to the public, do not enter. These are homes set up for the guests during the pow-wow.

12. Do not set up camp for yourself without asking first.

The Intertribal Dance:

At most pow-wows, everyone can dance the intertribal dance, even tourists! Listen to the announcer. He or she will let you know if there is a dance you can join. If there is, it will be the intertribal dance. This dance is danced the same at any pow-wow, and it's an easy dance to learn.

Unless you are a Native American, you cannot wear a costume. But you can dance in your regular street clothes.

The step is the same for all dancers. Keeping in step with the beat of the drums:

1. On the first beat, you take the ball of your foot and tap it.

2. On the next beat, you place your foot flatly down.

3. On the next two beats, repeat these two actions with your other foot.

4. Repeat steps 1-3. Movement is in a clockwise circle, moving like a clock. Have fun!

For Kids

Print-out: Color a Pow-Wow drum

Instructions: Make a Pow-Wow Drum and Drum Beater

Pow-Wow fact sheets for Kids and Teachers

Each year, there are Pow-Wows scheduled across the United States. We hope you and your family will find time to visit one.

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