Colorful regalia, pounding drums and Indian tacos can all be found at any pow wow on any reservation. But have you ever wondered who those colorful, whirling dancers are? Ever wonder where they came from? Or why they dance?
At the 16th Annual Enumclaw School District Pow Wow in Enumclaw, Wash., I got four dancers to share their story. Let’s just say their ages vary a bit.
Tanya Taff, 19, is Navajo and Apache. She is an all around pow wow dancer (she was dancing Jingle at this pow wow, but likes to enter other dances) and is from Enumclaw, Wash.
Taff has been dancing since she was two years old. She said every time she dances she thinks about her family members who have passed away. When she dances, she feels a connection with them again, which is strong motivation for anyone to get on the regalia and move to the drums.
“When you’re dancing, it isn’t about yourself, it’s about your elders and thinking about what the creator has done for you,” Taff said. “ When I dance I am just thankful for everything I have in my life.“
Lawrence McDonald, 29, stopped dancing when he was young after his grandmother passed away. But after a couple ceremonies he received his Indian name and was told to start dancing again. Three years ago he picked up his regalia again and began dancing Men’s Fancy.
“I just love it,” said McDonald. “It feels right, it feels like I should be here.”
McDonald is Colville Indian and Spokane Indian. He grew up on the Colville Indian Reservation in Omak, Wash.
Another aspect to dancing that McDonald enjoys the camaraderie. Donning the regalia means he gets to spend time with other American Indians.
“I love meeting new people, seeing old family and friends,” he said. “I have actually met so many family members I didn’t know I had.”
Grace Redd, 11, danced when she was younger and started dancing again this year. She dances jingle and is from the Seneca Nation of Indians in New York.
“I chose jingle because I like how the footwork was and how it is always on the toes,” Redd said. “I think it looks really pretty.”
The drums and singing are what made her want to dance again. She also likes learning new things. One day she wants to teach others how to dance, she said.
Marvin Hannah, Navajo, teaches children how to dance in an after school program at the Muckleshoot Tribal School in Auburn, Wash. I asked him his age, but he politely declined.
“(Through dancing) I teach them health and wellness of life,” Hannah said. “So they can bring back some of these indigenous ways of learning how to dance and be healthier.”
He also thinks it is a good way to keep youth off the streets.
Hannah said he likes the spirituality of dancing and it keeps him healthy. Dancing makes for a clean environment in his eyes and he enjoys it, he added.
“People loving what you do and I like getting them involved,” he said.
When Hannah sees the students he taught to dance, it fills him with pride.
“I’ve done something good for them and it is something I am proud of,” he said. “I’ve done something for the people.
Hannah is a Cultural Arts teacher at Muckleshoot Tribal School and has been dancing for a long time. He started dancing Men’s traditional and now, as all dancers who keep on moving as the years slide by, he dances Men’s Golden Age.
It helps when you get encouragement, of course.
“My Sioux brother said, ‘pick up your feathers and put them back on, Marvin, and go back out and dance,” Hannah said. “So I did and I am still dancing.”
Hannah is originally from Crown Point, NM, on the Navajo Reservation, but orientated himself with the Northern Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne people in Wyoming.
When he moved to Wyoming there was a lot of traditional dancers, his uncles were traditional and his grandparents were traditional. This made him want to dance traditional.
“I put those feathers on that way,” he said.
Dancing is in Hannah’s blood now, he enjoys it, and he loves it and will keep on dancing straight through his golden years.