The dances at pow wow speak of one's tribal affiliation as well as ancestry - as the drum beats and tribal sounds soar through the air, dancers move and re enliven their ancient roots.
Dressed in their finest regalia, dancers are stirred by the rhythmic beat of the drum. Their graceful performances fill the space with mystical sights accompanied by the haunting sound of the past.
Men's Traditional Dance
Said to be as "ancient as the Native Peoples themselves", it is believed that the Men's Traditional Dance began long, long ago when a war party would return to the village and dance out the story of a battle or when those coming back from a hunt would dance their story of tracking prey.
During the performance, dancers assume the part of a warrior or hunter as they tell of their adventures through their movements. Their regalia will usually include warrior status symbols - shields, weapons, honor staffs, and medicine wheels.
Men's Grass Dance
The most beautiful and graceful of all men's dances, the Grass Dance has ancient roots and is believed by some to be one of the first true pow wow dances.
Historically, this dance was performed by the great warriors of the tribe. The scalps of their enemies hung from the dancer's waist as they danced the stories of their exploits. Later, the scalps became grass and then yarn or ribbon as we know them today.
With fluid body movements, dancers appear as if to float as they emulate prairie grass as it waves in the wind. Nodding from side to side, up and down, to the beat of the drum, this dance is marked by the constantly spinning feathers on the roach headdress.
Men's Fancy Dance
Introduced when pow wows became public, the Fancy Dance is relatively new (compared to the more historic Traditional and Grass) and much more colorful than many of the ancient dances.
It is widely accepted that the regalia worn by Fancy Dancers - the vibrantly colored feather bustles, colorful beadwork, feathers, and ribbons - was influenced by promoters who suggested the dancers enhance their outfits for their new public audience.
During a performance, these energetic dancers captivate as they match their complex movements to the beat with the drum.
Women's Traditional Dance
This ancient dance is marked by graceful and subtle movements. It tells of a time when women once moved to the music along the outer edge of the dance space as the men danced in the center - it is said this was because it was the responsibility of the women to watch over the safety of the village.
Breathtaking and beautiful, dancers often wear shawls over long buckskin or tradecloth dresses. Their clothing, hair, and jewelry are elaborately adorned with ornate beadwork, porcupine quills, and shells, as well as fringe and ribbons.
Jingle Dress Dance
Covered by rows of metal cones, the jingle dress is known for its unique tinkling sound as the dancer moves to the beat of the drum.
Legend has it that the Jingle Dress Dance was inspired by an Ojibwa holy man's vision. This vision taught him how to make the dresses, gifted him the melodies for the dance, and showed him how the dance was to be performed.
When the holy man woke, he and his wife made the dresses and chose four young women of the tribe (it is believed they were also part of the dream) to learn and perform this special dance. After this first performance, the Jingle Dress Dance soon spread to other tribal nations. Today it is performed by women across the US and Canada.
Women's Fancy Shawl Dance
This dance is inspired by the story of a butterfly who lost her mate in battle. Sad and alone, she withdrew from her cocoon (symbolized by the shawl) and began to travel the world until she found the beauty in life to begin her life anew.
The fancy shawl dance outfit is marked by an elegant shawl with long, flowing fringe, knee-length satin dress, beaded moccasins with matching leggings, and jewelry.
During the performance, the movement of the shawl resembles the motions of a butterfly's wings. Moving in rhythm with the tempo of the drum with light and fast footwork and graceful body movements, a Fancy Shawl Dancer will appear to float and never touch the ground.