British foreign exchange student shares reaction to first powwow

Janine Fagan

Janine Fagan

Entering the pow-wow, the first thing I heard was the clinking of bells, lots of bells, and then before me stood the most amazing sight, a dancer dressed in his native tribal attire.

As I walked into the main hall, I didn’t know where to look first. My eyes raced over Frost Arena, looking at all the dancers and native people and their costumes. My first ever pow-wow, and I just stood their gob smacked.

A prayer started the occasion, and the spoken words in native tongue fluttered in the air. I closed my eyes and became unaware of where I was, listening hard to every word that was spoken.

Each word I heard, unfamiliar like the next and the one before, but I still listened. I almost felt hypnotized by the sound of the language and the tone of the speaker’s voice.

My lack of understanding didn’t stand in the way, and I felt almost a spiritual connection, and therefore an understanding of the spoken prayer.

When the opening ceremony got underway, the drumbeats began and the chants rang out over any other noise.

It has to be the most amazing sound my ears have ever heard. Standing only a foot away from the chanters and drums, my body was flushed immediately with goose bumps. The different tones of music rang untouched around Frost Arena and they were soon joined by the sound of the dancers bells.

The movement of the line of dancers as they slowly appeared onto their stage seemed so natural and in rhythm with each beat. The flowing movement of their costumes seemed surreal, but enchanting.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the dancers as they kept coming closer and closer towards me.

I began to see their clear faces and the delicate detail of their outfits. Their moccasins and feathered headresses were simply indescribable.

The way the dancers moved with the beats of the music and their personal connection with each beat and chants seemed effortless.

It almost seemed like they glided from beat to beat in the way they found movement so freely as they danced into the ceremony.

Over time I could distinguish the dancing differences between men and women. The men moved with a full footstep and stiff movement to each beat, and the women danced on their toes and moved more freely, as if they were an eagle gliding in the sky. The sound of the bells together as they danced was soothing and joyful. The whole sound, which accumulated throughout each dance, entranced my heart and soul in the powerful beat of the drums and the comforting sound of the bells.

Each chant rang out like a call of tribal power. The intensity startled me to begin with, but I soon realized the restful sound.

It smothered my thinking into only hearing the chants and the beat of each drum that vibrated through my chest with such delicacy. The cries of each song made me think of wide-open spaces of the Plains, and how this sound must sound even more spine tingling in open air.

It was like the music held me in a trance for two hours. It was a power that I have not experienced before, and don’t think I will again unless I go to another pow-wow. It held my attention immensely and I was mesmerized by the amount of culture before my eyes. It made me feel as though I wanted to join in and start dancing, I could feel my toes tapping and my instinct to want to dance as the drum beats rang out. I thought to myself ‘control yourself girl, you will only show yourself up trying to dance among the native dancers. You do not dance like them nor do you understand the meaning behind their rhythm so stop trying to think you could just start dancing.’

The color of their costumes was beautiful, sparkling reflections among the lights from certain mirrors attached to their clothing. The arrangement of many feathers on the back of many dancers was creative but peaceful.

Each dancer’s costume different from the next and the individuality of the head pieces was wonderful. The delicate sewing and needlework showed, but the simplicity of the design showed astonishing creativity.

I took pictures upon pictures hoping to capture that one fine moment to remember my first pow-wow.

I wandered aimlessly, admiring such an amazing culture, and resumed thinking just how lucky I was to be there.

I closed my eyes one last time to breath the comforting energy into my body so that I could continue to breath for many moments after, and carry it within the rhythm of my steps as I walked home.

I picked up my coat and lingered even more. After I watched the dancers dance, I left feeling exhilarated and touched by my first ever Wacipi.