SHERIDAN – For some, the differences between different Native American dances can be subtle, if not imperceptible. For others, there are telltale signs that tell you everything.
According to Janine Pease, retired president of Little Big Horn College and member of the Crow Tribe, the differences in tribal dances are found in the badges, vocals and even the beat of the drum.
“There are tribal differences,” Pease said. “They are not subtle to me. For someone who has no education (on Native American culture), they could be.
Pease said the Crow Tribe dance may appear calmer compared to other tribes, such as the Northern Cheyenne Fancy Dance, who are more athletic in nature.
“They will lift both feet off the ground at the same time,” she said. “You have to be like a long-distance runner. “
Additionally, Ravens dance in large groups and Northern Cheyennes dance in groups of two or three so that individuals can show off their talent. Ravens are audibly stronger with bells on their paws and feet, while Northern Cheyennes are visually stronger with bright, flashy outfits.
Of course, Pease, who now lives in Billings, MT, learned to notice the difference growing up on the Crow Reservation. She also attends eight to ten powwows, if not more, each year.
One powwow that people won’t attend is the annual First Peoples Friday powwow and dance, usually held as part of Sheridan WYO Rodeo Week, due to concerns about COVID-19 and related restrictions. .
“So much has been canceled because of COVID,” Pease said. “(But) everyone can’t wait to start dancing again.”
The good news for rodeo enthusiasts is that the powwow is slated to return in 2022. And when it does, Pease said individuals should take a closer look to notice, not just the differences in the music and the dancing. , but also to use them. differences to say to which tribe a dance can belong.
“Look at the badges,” she said. “They the way it’s worn, what they wear. He will tell you the tribe.
Like almost any type of music, Pease added that Native American songs continue to evolve, with powwows featuring a variety of old and new.
“Some songs are often very old. They could be 1900s, ”she said. “But new songs are being written all the time.”
And while most Native American music features drummers and singers, as well as perhaps tribal whistles, there are again some distinct differences.
“They are as complex as Beethoven,” said Pease. “Every song is different. They have their own melody. They can have words. No two songs are the same. They are different.”
According to Pease, Crow’s songs usually feature one of three different drum beats – a double beat, a “heart” beat, or a student beat. The beating of the drum has its own meaning, as it represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth.
“As a dancer you have to listen to the beat of the drum,” Pease said.
Each tribe has a different approach to song during powwow.
According to West, the songs begin with a lead line sung by the lead singer to inform the drummers and dancers of the upcoming song. A drummer will then take the lead and the rest of the drummers will join him.
At this point, the dancers join them. Loud beats during songs are sometimes called “Honor Beats” and are meant for dancers to honor the drum. In northern tribes these beats are usually during worms and in southern tribes they are between worms.
The Northern Cheyenne Reserve Songs contain lyrics for memorial songs, honor songs, veterans songs, flag songs and victory songs.
Even the pattern of the steps is important, with the dancer representing their relationship with a higher being by continually touching Mother Earth.
If that weren’t enough, the reasons why a tribe might organize a powwow, or more precisely “pau-wau” referring to a healing ceremony conducted by the spiritual leaders of a tribe, can vary.
According to the American Indian Heritage Foundation, powwow ceremonies were held to celebrate the circle of life and all living and spiritual things. Ancient stories passed down from generation to generation are staged, keeping history alive.
Powwows were also organized to celebrate a successful hunt and to thank the spirits for a bountiful harvest, or to prepare the warriors for battle.