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Dancing for Her People: Dr. Denise Walters, Ph.D.

Posted By PowWows.com January 30th, 2014 Last Updated on: January 30th, 2014

Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Contributing Editor

For many Powwow goers from many tribes, Dr. Denise Walters is a comforting, compassionate presence.  Blessed with academic excellence and cultural interests, this Nottoway beauty shares her Traditional Dancing at numerous powwows and events. Dr. Denise Walters, Ph.D.  discussed her heritage and her heart for Native lifeways with Powwows.com.

Q)  You're so dedicated to Native Causes and Powwows! I'm thrilled you could visit with us. You're familiar to many powwow fans, but will you please introduce yourself to us?



A)  My name is Denise Lowe Walters. I am a scientist with a B.S. in Chemistry and a Ph.D. in pharmacy. I have been dancing for more than 20 years.

Q) What is your Native heritage? How do you incorporate your heritage into your life?

A) I am a member of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia.  Our tribe values faith, hard work, and education.  I have focused on education in my personal life, which has resulted in a very fulfilling career.  My tribe focuses on understanding our heritage and sharing our traditions and history with both Native and non-Native people in the area.  In recent years, my son and I have participated in a number of our tribe’s sharing activities.

We embrace all our ancestors and what they have contributed to our lives.  We are a people with a deep sense of love and faith, and we do our best to communicate that to others around us. My tribe’s powwow is known to many as a healing powwow.  People who attended often comment on the love and acceptance they receive from our people, and I try to display that same love and acceptance to all.

Dr. Denise Walters, Ph.D. Nottoway Women's Traditional Dancer

Dr. Denise Walters, Ph.D.
Nottoway Women's Traditional Dancer

Q) You're a popular powwow presence, so I'd love to know what powwows mean to you and to your worldview.

A) A powwow for me is both a big family gathering and a cultural celebration.  It is a time for us to dance before the Creator and show our thanks for all we have received.  It is time for family and friends to gather, sing, dance, rejoice, mourn, and remember.  People should attend so that they can experience a piece of our culture and understand us better.  Relationships are built through time spent together.  People attending a powwow can do more than watch us dancing in our fancy regalia or buy the arts and crafts we have for sale.  They can talk to people and ask questions.  They can listen when the emcee tells a story about the meaning of a dance or a song.



Q) Dancing is a spiritual discipline. What do you experience when you dance?

A) When I am in my regalia, I feel strong, confident, empowered, and beautiful.  I have twice the amount of energy at a powwow as any other time or place.  I dance to honor my heritage, I dance to honor the Creator, I dance for my ancestors, and I dance for pure joy.

Q) You come from a powerful tribe that has many beautiful ways. What are some of those ways that you would like to share with us?

A)  A concept that resurfaces time and again is that of balance.  Sometimes I think that that is what I am lacking, and when I read the newspaper I see lots of examples of out-of-balance people as well.  In your question, you used the word “centered.”  That’s the key: to live your life in such a way that everything has its proper place and every concern has its proper proportion.  If we can all learn to consume only what we need and to give to others without neglecting ourselves, the world would be a much better place.  One of the reasons I like the Women’s Traditional style is that it allows me to demonstrate the kind of moderation and balance that I feel we all need.

Q) How did you start dancing? How did you know that this was what you truly wanted to do?

A) The first time I went to a powwow I saw a woman in the circle dancing in a white buckskin dress who looked exactly like my grandmother who had died recently.  It was as if she had come back and was calling me into the circle.  I bought a dress and started talking to people at powwows in Virginia and Ohio, learning traditions and dance styles.  I met long lost relatives and made very close friends from those dance circles.  I learned both Northern and Southern Traditional Women’s styles.  Recently, I began learning social dances from Meherrin and Tuscarora friends. Since these dances are in the same tradition as the Nottoway, I decided that it was important for me to focus on my own heritage.  I now have regalia in both Eastern and Western styles.

Q) How did you choose your dance category? What does dancing your particular style mean to you?

A)  I believe that it is what the Creator directed me to do.  When I dance this style, I feel that I am a strong Native woman.

Q) What do you feel in your heart as you dance?

A) I think that the joy I feel when I dance shows in the way I carry myself.  My love of dancing often shows on my face and in the energy in my step.

Q)I so much enjoy seeing you in your regalia and I know others do as well! Any stories behind it that you'd like to share?

A)   My colors are red, yellow and blue. The Creator directed me to these colors.  I have had several dresses with this color scheme, but my favorite is my Nottoway regalia.  I made this regalia two years ago.  I have the Sky Woman design on my skirt.  I have five flowers for the five fingers in the hand of God. Each flower has 3 different colored lines in the center to represent the Nottoway, Meherrin and Blackwater rivers.  They are the rivers on our traditional reservation land.  The 13 flower petals are the 13 moons and they are beaded in red, white, yellow and black to represent the 4 directions.  My blouse has copper beads to represent the copper that was used by Virginia Native people for trade.  I wear jewelry made of amazonite and copper.  Amazonite is found in Amelia County, Virginia and is a stone that represents physical and spiritual healing.  I call this my health and wealth jewelry.

Dr. Denise Walters dances Women's Traditional.

Dr. Denise Walters dances Women's Traditional.

Q) What do you think folks will learn about themselves as they attend powwows? What do you hope that they will discover about Native People and Culture?

A)  I think that they will learn about dances and traditions, they will see wonderful traditional arts and crafts, and most of all they will have an opportunity to meet people and learn.  I believe that building relationships brings people together.  Sharing a conversation and an Indian Taco could be a first step to understanding.

Q) While non-Natives often judge success in terms of crowd size, fame or finances, Natives usually view things from a different perspective. With that in mind, what do you think makes a powwow a successful one?

A) The best powwows are the ones where there is a spirit of love.  I have been to many small and large powwows, but the ones that I like the most are the ones where I am made to feel like family, even if I just met someone.  Having a big crowd of dancers and lots of vendors is ok, but what is most important to me is the joy of relationships with other Native people.

Q) What do you wish we knew about you that we don't already know?

A) I like traditional native music, Baptist hymns, and opera.

Mvto…thank you for your sharing with us! We sure do appreciate you!

Dr. Dawn Karima is the author of two novels, THE MARRIAGE OF SAINTS and THE WAY WE MAKE SENSE.


Home » Native American Articles » Native American Culture » Dancing for Her People: Dr. Denise Walters, Ph.D.


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eeva kähönen

Dr.Desire Walters olet hienojen arvojen ihminen ja nainen, sinulla on kauniit ja voimakkat mielipiteet kansastasi ja yleensäkin asioista kultturi, musikki varmasti myös luonto. Se,että kuuluu ja on jotain on tuttua myös minulle, arvokasta ajattelua on myös rakkaus, joka todellaon kaikille hyvää tuova asia ja toivottavasti yhdistää ihmisiä ympäri maailman.kiitos tästä artikkelista.Olet tärkeä ja rakas ihminen. Sinulle Eeva Kähönen

Judythe Forrest

It is a blessing that I found you thru the blogs. Red Cloud has been on my
tongue and there is a native american ancestor who stands by me especially since I have lost my father who is native in ancestory. I am white but my heart is in my native american heritage. This is no accident but meant to be. I want to share and learn the joys of the American Native ways I want connection within this dimension. Was once in a Raven clan but we have since split up. Connection is very important to me. Judythe Forrest

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