July 28th, 2014 Last Updated on: July 28th, 2014
Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Native American Culture Editor
Q) We are thrilled to visit with you! What do you wish we knew about you that we might not already know?
A) I'm clumsy, like fall-down walking or falling-up stairs clumsy. I was born and raised in Southern California, from there my family moved to North Dakota, then Wisconsin and finally back to my Mother’s reservation in Upstate New York. I have performed with Keith Secola, Jana, Redbone, Brule, Digging Roots, and Frank Waln. I am just finishing up my BFA in Fine arts in Chicago where I concentrate on paintings, prints, and doodles. Also, I do a bit of acting here and there.
Q)What is your Native heritage? What has your tribal background taught you that helps you in life?
A)I am enrolled Seneca on my Mother’s side and Muscogee Creek on my Father’s. Growing up, some of the tribal values I live by are: Respect your Elders, Respect for women, sharing with others, dance for the ones who came before, for the ones who can’t, and for the ones yet to come, and always be thankful.
Q) Dancing is truly important to all of us here at Powwows.com! Dancing is an important part of your life, too, right?
A) Dancing for me is an escape from the everyday routine, a time to just be in the moment, to listen to the music and voices of our people. To anyone that doesn’t know about our dances, I tell them that each dance is a story and has meaning. Even though the times and materials have changed, the dances at their core have remained the same. Everyone should attend a powwow or see our dances, it is the best way to make someone understand that we as a people are very much alive and thriving.
Q) You are such a powerful presence in your regalia and when you dance!How does dancing impact you?
A) When I am fully dressed in regalia it makes me feel connected, to the people, family, culture, past, present, and future when I see the little ones dancing. When I am dancing it’s a feeling of belonging and I am where I am supposed to be.
Q) You travel a great deal and perform. How do you stay spiritually grounded?
A) Growing up across the states I wasn’t around my tribe very much, so a lot of what I learned I learned from my Mother. From her, I learned that through dance we are always together no matter where we are in the world. That keeps me centered in my travels. With that in mind when I dance I am able to dance to my fullest knowing that my family is with me when I dance, so I am dancing for them as well.
Q)How did you start dancing? How did you know that this was what you truly wanted to do?
A) I started dancing soon as I was able to walk, my Mother made me little breach cloths and leggings. So dancing for me has always been a part of my life. There were times though, around 12-13 years old when I didn’t want to dance, but every time we went to a pow wow the sound of the drum would always make me dance. Dance is a part of who I am.
Q)How did you choose your dance category? What does dancing your particular style mean to you?
A)I enjoy all the dance categories/styles whether it’s the traditional stories of traditional, the swaying movements of grass or the fast and quick steps of fancy. I started out with fancy as a little guy, then went to grass dancing for awhile, but I do fancy often at the present. I also think Im a pretty good jingle dress dancer haha!
Q)What do you think distinguishes your personal dancing from the other dancers?
A) What makes my dancing different from others is my story. I take all kinds of influences into my dancing from my life experiences. Growing up in Southern California I learned a few of the Latin dances as well as hip hop and modern dancing. With these in mind they influence some of ‘moves.’ I feel as a dancer this is what makes us all unique, that we all tell our story with our dancing.
Q)Please tell us about your regalia? Are there stories behind some of your colors and designs? We’d love to hear!
A) Ah my regalia! When I was making it I started off with the dark emerald green. And being a woodland tribe I wanted to incorporate the floral designs so I chose a recognizable flower, a rose in this case. That’s where the pinks and purples came into the color choices. The pink is usually what catches peoples’ attention.
Q)What do you think folks will learn about themselves as they attend dances? What do you hope that they will discover about Native People and Culture?
A) When folks come and see a pow wow or a dance I hope they become curious about their own culture, if you go back far enough, everyone came from a culture that has its own dances, stories, and songs. I hope they want to learn more about themselves in this way. When they see Native people at a pow wow or dance, I hope they will discover a vibrant culture that is as diverse as the country we live in. That Native people are not what is shown in mainstream media and very far from just being a page in a history book.
Q)What do you think makes a pow wow or dance a good one? What are some of your favorite ceremonies, pow wows, or dances?
A) A lot of inter-tribals and dancing make a good pow wow! Social dancing and a good Emcee with goot jokes! Some of my favorite pow wows are: Shakopee, Denver March, Morongo, United Tribes, Orange County, Seneca Allegany, Hinckley.
Q) It's a joy to see you dance and great to learn more about your story! Thanks! Any parting words?
A) I rock at karaoke! Bust a Move gets the people dancing haha!
Dr Dawn Karima Pettigrew is the author of two novels, THE MARRIAGE OF SAINTS and THE WAY WE MAKE SENSE, that reflect Native life on the reservations of the Southeast Tribes.
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