Below is an explanation of each dance competition category, followed by some general guidelines when attending Taos Pueblo Pow Wow. While these dances have a religious connotation for some, the dances you will see during the pow wow weekend are not ceremonial.
DRUM GROUPS & SINGERS
Drum groups consist of 5 to even 20 singers per drum. These drum groups are divided by a certain way of singing: Northern or Southern style. The Northern style is comprised of a higher pitched singing and the Southern style is more plaintive and lower in pitch. The drum groups and the songs they compose have quite a following on the pow wow trail and among Indian peoples. It is quite common for a drum group to have numerous fans and recordings of their songs.
The gourd dance is Kiowa in origin and was originally danced by an organization of revered men of warriors, those in the military and their families. Kiowa men wear blankets and women wear shawls of red and blue material during the dance. Red commemorates the Kiowas at war against the Spanish and the blue against the US Calvary. This dance is not part of the competition and is typically the prelude to the pow wow dance competition. The songs of the gourd dance are very similar to those of the Southern singing style.
The men’s category 0f Grass Dance most likely originated from the tribes of the Mandan, Arikara, & Hidatsa, to name just a few. One legend says that a young man once longed to dance but was unable to because he was lame in one foot. This longing brought him out onto the prairie where he prayed as he limped up a small hill. When he reached the top, it came to him that he should develop his own style of dance. Looking at the swooping grasses below, he realized that this could be his dance. The Grass Dancer wears strands of colorful yarn or ribbon hanging from their arms and waist to represent grass as seen by that young man. Their graceful movements are meant to replicate the gently swaying prairie grasses.
MEN’S FANCY DANCE
These energetic dancers can be recognized by the large double feather bustles worn on their backs. The fancy dancer typically wears a colorful cape and apron trimmed with fringes and beadwork. Fancy Dancers are the most athletic and coordinated of dancers. The fancy dance is exciting to see & hear because of its high energy and elaborate foot work.
Northern traditional dancers are men that wear full feather bustles on their back that typically come from an eagle or some other bird of prey. On their head, there is either a roach made of porcupine quills and/or deer tail hair or a feather headdress. These dancers carry staffs and shields as they represent the older style of dances of their fathers and grandfathers from the Northern Plains.
The “Gentlemen” Dancers as they are sometimes referred to, can be recognized by their highly articulated dance moves. Their dress style includes ribbon work, cotton or buckskin leggings, breech cloth, and an otter tail that hangs down their back. Southern Straight dancers wear an otter cap or roach on their head and carry a beaded dance stick or fan.
The oldest form of women’s dance is Traditional Buckskin. Their outfit is comprised of hand crafted buckskin dresses decorated with intricate beadwork designs that take hours or even years to make. The Northern style dress is exemplified by a fully beaded cape that is worn on the shoulders. The Southern style dress use beadwork to accentuate the buckskin. A fringed shawl is typically draped over one arm and there is a large feather fan in one hand. The subtle movements of the dancer are at once elegant and striking.
The women’s cloth dress is much like the traditional buckskin, but made with fine materials and ribbon work. The footwork of the women’s cloth category is deliberate and graceful.
WOMEN’S FANCY SHAWL
This energetic and athletic women’s dance is typified by the elaborately beaded capes, moccasins, and leggings. These are complemented by intricately embroidered or decorated fringed shawls. The color coordinated outfits accentuate the dancers spinning and high stepping dance moves of her category.
WOMEN’S JINGLE DRESS
Much like the men’s Grass Dance, this dance is defined by legend.
According to the Chippewa tribe, an elderly man was close to death & dreamed of his daughter clothed in a dress he had never seen before. The Spirits explained to him how to make the metal cones to be sewn on the cloth.
Then he dreamed his daughter and three friends danced in their jingle dresses. He liked the sight and sound. After a miraculous recovery, the old man instructed his daughter and her friends to make the special dresses. The lyrical Jingle Dress Dance was born. There are two distinct styles of the Jingle Dress Dance: the ‘straight’ & ‘side step’ styles.
To see larger images of these dancers, click here.