Dancing Our Traditions

By Shawnee Bear on July 26, 2013
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Happy Middle of summer!  Happy Pow-wowing!!

This powwow mom has been one busy lady!   I am a director for a powwow dance troupe located in California.  And we have been rehearsing for the State Fair.  We were selected to be a part of the cultural arts section.   And this led me to do some thinking about different tribal dances.

Being an urban Indian and living away from my tribal headquarters & tribal powwows, I’ve had to learn to ask questions about different dances and ask about the reasons why it’s danced.  Not that I don’t already know – but just so I can have a more rounded view from different people who are of different tribes.    Since our dance group is comprised of entirely urban Indians living away from our homelands – I decided to teach myself the proper way to dance these dances and in turn teach the troupe.

Bear in mind that a lot of our troupe dancers are young adults or teenagers.  They again have limited exposure to these dances because of being urban and not on tribal lands or exposed to the society dances.

Some of the dances we rehearsed are as follows –
1 – Rabbit Dance/Candy Dance
2 – Spear & Shield Dance
3 – Scalp Dance
4 – Snake & Buffalo Dance

Now while to a lot of our Oklahoma Indians, where my tribes are from, these seem like bone head children dances.  But if you’ve ever powwow’ed in Cali- you know these dances are not even in the dance vernacular.  Yes some are society dances – but there are natives in Cali that have never even seen any of these dances before and when exposed to the dance were extremely shocked to see the beauty and the fun in dancing these dances.
This powwow mom spent a lot of time thinking about the performance at the state fair.   Mainly because it is a time of the year where I can expose our group to new dances and spend the time to teach them with an expected goal of performing them at the fair.   My main goal with this is to show our dancers that there is more to powwow than just the regular contest song and intertribal.

We stretch the limits with each of our troupe members.  Those who think they are not leaders end up being great leaders.  Those who think they are not able to dance on stage in front of hundreds of people can.  Those who think they can’t speak publically end up speaking well in front of a crowd.   It is a good learning experience for all who are involved and those who enjoy dancing in performances.

My thoughts throughout this entire experience is – what do I want to pass down to my children?  As a mom of twin boys what do I want to expose to them?   This is why I have come up with the specialty dances performed at powwows.  So my boys and all of the others will be able to see that dance wherever they are and know what it means and be able to participate.   I spent many months researching and talking to different people before engaging in these dances.   And I’m fairly confident the dance participants get the idea and the meanings behind the dances.

So this powwow mom wants to know from all of you – what types of dances do you want to share / pass down to your children?  How do you show them?   Or what dances do you wish were danced at the powwow?  Let me know!!

Love –

Shonnie
A sunny Cali powwow mom

PS – I’m attaching a picture of our group.  Please excuse the Cantina sign!  We had to get off stage quickly!!!


TOPICS: Blog, Featured, Pow Wow, Pow Wow Mom's

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6 Responses to “Dancing Our Traditions”

  1. Kathryn says:

    Where and when will your troupe be performing? I live in California, and would love to see their performance.

  2. Drew Waepew-Awaehsaeh says:

    Hi Shonnie,

    I enjoyed reading this and was glad to know that You took it upon yourself to teach your youth,different kinds of dances after FIRST……researching them and talking to the people who DO these types of dances!!

    I’ve always been a “Men’s Traditional” dancer,as was My Father and all of his brothers!! Like You,I don’t live anywhere near my Rez either,yet also like You,I took the time to ask my Father,where certain dances came from and how they apply to our Tribe!! I found it very educational and he taught me a number of things that I’d had NEVER of known had I not asked him.

    One of my FAVORITE dances,has ALWAYS been the “Sneak-up” dance after (or during) doing a Men’s Traditional dance!! Although that type of dance has never been done within OUR tribe,I still Love doing it as You physically tell a “Story” if You will,with the dance-movements that go along with it! Thanks Shonnie.

  3. Jennifer Wilmot says:

    I grew up as a child learning the snake dance; rabbit dance; mosquito dance; round dance; friendship dance; two step dance. It is such a pleasure knowing it is still being practiced regularily and cnestly say these dances and teachings are ewhat I want my children yo learn as I am a Mother to four children. Please continue your work as a dedicated Mom and Native Woman.:-)

  4. Tala says:

    What a fine looking group of performers. Keep up the good work!

  5. Shonnie says:

    Thanks everyone! The fair has become a favorite for our natives here where i live. I had alot of fun connecting with alot of the people here for knowledge. This gave me a chance to not only enhance our troupe’s knowledge but mine as well, and make great friends with people!! Thanks for all the postive responses and support from whereever you are!!!

  6. Ellie says:

    Thank you for this blog Shonnie! I am also a mother of all boys and teacher of our dances. I do many ceremonies of our native culture through the Boy Scouts of America….mainly teaching them the PROPER and APPROPRIATE ways of our culture! But I was recently asked to teach a group of 4-6th grade students a dance for their Multi-cultural day. I was thinking of teaching them the Friendship Dance and the Happy Dance that they then would perform for their school at an assembly. They want to wear traditional outfits but as we all know it takes more than just a couple of weeks to put one together. So my question is have you ever come across this and what type of clothing/outfit do you think would be appropriate for these kids to make?
    Thanks for all you are doing to teach our youth and carry on our native traditions!

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