Powwow Etiquette


  1.  The arena benches are reserved for the dancers dressed in dance regalia. The blankets placed in the arena on benches mark the spot of the dancers. Please don't sit on someone's blanket unless invited. If you are not dancing you may bring chairs and sit outside of the arena behind the benches.
  2.  Listen to the Master of Ceremonies. He will announce who is to dance, the dance step, and when to dance.
  3.  Please be considerate of those seated or standing behind you. They may not be able to see over you. Please make room for everyone to enjoy the dancing.
  4.  During the Flag Song and Honor Songs you are asked to stand and remove hats to show respect for the American flag and those who are honored.
  5. The dance arena is for those participating in the dance. It has been blessed and should be considered sacred.
  6. Photographs should be taken only with the permission of the individual subject. You are welcome to take group pictures without anyone's permission. Please remember to be courteous. If you have any questions, please ask.
  7. All persons not in regalia are asked that legs be covered before entering the dance arena.


Terms Used at the Pow-Wow


Announcers, Masters of Ceremonies:
All pow-wows have these. They keep the event going, announcing events, explaining exhibition dances, telling jokes, calling for lost parents, seeking owners of lost items.

Arena Directors:
Usually honored dancers who keep track of drum order and dance contests and help coordinate contest events.

Fry Bread:
Bread dough fried in hot fat and served with honey and butter; powerfully fattening and delicious. The recipe varies.

Grand Entry:
The parade of dancers that leads off each session of the pow-wow. Contestants numbers are recorded and they receive points for participation.

Distribution of goods by a family to friends, relatives, and visitors in honor of a person or event; for example to memorialize someone's death, for a naming ceremony or an adoption. goods range from blankets to foodstuffs to horses covered with money. The giveaway is preceded by an honor song.

Indian Taco:
Bread served with beans, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and onions. Good stuff!!!

 Indian Flag:
A staff, spiritual in nature, covered in fur and hung with eagle feathers, which represents Indianess and/or a tribe, carried with honor by a veteran in the opening ceremonies.

Indian Time:
The time all pow-wows run on. Schedules are set, but are flexible, and attempts are made to adhere to them strictly but due to the informal nature of large gatherings, times are approximate. Things start when they start and end when they end.

Pow-Wow Circuit:
Similar to a rodeo circuit, and entire families travel them from Memorial Day to Labor Day. People traveling the circuit consists of dancers, singers, gamblers, rodeo riders, announcers, and concessionaires. The circuit can be addictive, and is a wonderful opportunity to meet people and learn.

Singer/Drum Group:
The music of the pow-wow circuit, each usually includes five to ten members (and sometimes entire families), with a lead singer and others who can "second" (repeat the lead line with melody on a different or similar key). Dancers key their movements to the melody of the song, their footwork keeping time to the drumbeat. Singers have a variety of song styles they offer in order to allow dancers to show off their style. Songs include trick songs, fast and slow grass dance songs, shake songs, crow hops, and sneak ups. Song structure consists of chorus and verse, some using real words and others using vocals. Certain groups are known for their quality, and the dancers will honor these drum groups by shistling for them to repeat a song. Songs are passed on by oral tradition.

The Head People

To be selected as one of the "Head People" is a high honor. The Head People are selected not only for ability but also for personal qualities, actions and how they treat other people.

Head Man and Head Lady Dancers
This is also a high honor. These two dancers guide and direct the dancers throughout the pow-wow. They are the first to begin dancing in each song. Other dancers wait in respect until the head man and head lady begin dancing.

Head Singer
This is another high honor. The head singer must know all the songs to be sung. The head singer is selected to lead the singing. The head singer either starts the drumming / singing or selects another "lead" singer to begin the song. All other singers/drummers must wait for the signal for them to join in.

The dance arena may be inside or outside, but must be large enough to accommodate all participants and observers. It is blessed before the Pow-wow begins and is considered sacred ground for the duration of the celebration. Frequently, there are bleachers for spectators to sit on or people may bring lawn chairs. The front seats of the Arbor are for the dancers, singers, and their families. Elders are also given preferred places to sit. Running and playing within the dance arena is not allowed, nor is it proper for spectators to cross the Arbor during the Pow-wow. However, if you enter the circle, you always walk in a clockwise direction.

The Drum

The drum is much more than a musical instrument to the Indian. It is sacred. It is a very special tie to the traditional Indian way of life. It should be cared for in a certain prescribed manner. All singers must know the strict and exacting protocol to be observed while seated at the drum. You may note that singers observe strict drum etiquette.

The drum sets the rhythm of the dance and the tempo of the song. There are two types of drums used at most Pow-wows. One is a traditional drum, made by stretching hides over a frame and lacing the hides together with rawhide thongs. The other kind is more common, a regular band bass drum. Both drums are accorded the highest respect by all tribes as a most important part of any Pow-Wow.

Songs and Dances

War Dance
There are many types of war dances. In early times, the ceremonial dance called "haylushka" was restricted to warriors, and only the best dancers were chosen to participate. Today, the war dance is a victory dance among the Plains Indians. It is purely social and is enjoyed by all who chose to participate. It is a dignified dance, rather than a violent dance as is commonly supposed.

Round Dance
This is a social dance. Dancers move in rows of circles clockwise around the drum in a side-step, with the faster moving line in the middle close to the drum and the slower toward the outside, away from the drum. The entire line moves as one body, each in harmony to the rhythm of the drum.

Rabbit Dance / Two Step
These are two of the few dances where men and women dance as partners. The "Rabbit Dance" comes from the northern tribes such as the Sioux. The "Two Step" is an addition to the "Rabbit Dance". Women choose their partners. Couples, holding hands, circle the drum, stepping off with the left foot and dragging the right up with it in time to loud-soft drum beats. In early days, if a man refused to dance, he had to "pay" (money or craft gift) to the asker.

Snake Dance
A social dance - the "Snake Dance" is just what the name implies. Dancers follow each other in a single line, moving in and out in a snake like manner. The line of dancers describes the journey of a large snake through the forest and up the mountains, coiling up for a rest - uncoiling and traveling on. The "snake" comes to a river - section after section he crosses, down to the last, smallest tail dancer.

Flag Song
In recent years, nearly every tribe has composed a flag song, dedicated to the men and women who have served in the armed forces in various wars. The flag songs are the Indian equivalent of the National Anthem; all stand as the song is sung. There is no dancing to this song, but all stand in respect. (Certain women whose father, brother or son is a combat veteran may traditionally dance in peace.) The Flag Song is sung at the beginning of most Indian activities.

Honor Song
Honor songs are special songs sung to honor a particular person or persons. It is customary to stand in silence to show respect when an honor song is sung. Honor songs are always announced before they are sung at pow-wows.

Includes all dance styles in any "everyone dance" situation, all ages and genders. The announcer will usually say, "Let's everyone dance, all you dancers get out there!"

Source: Unknown

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