02 May 2011

Beltane And A Powwow

Fancy Dancer photo from here
Yesterday was eventful. First off, as many of you now know, we apparently killed Osama bin Laden. I’m going to go ahead and not post a reaction to that, because I’m pretty sure I’m technically not allowed to. So all I’ll say is this: it will hugely affect my future because of my profession, and I’m not entirely sure we as a country fully understand the ramifications this event will have.

Secondly, it was Beltane, although my celebration was somewhat informal and unorthodox even as far as my eclectic solitary Pagan-ness tends to go. I broke it up over the course of two days, and more or less just focused mentally on the spring and how I wish I could be jumping over bonfires and sneaking off to the woods to celebrate in a more intimate fashion. Alas, such will likely never be an option for me. Instead, I decided to tap into my creative energy by making a new necklace Saturday night, and then I went out with a few friends and celebrated in a very traditionally youthful fashion by hitting the local drinking hole. My friends knew I had a specific reason for wanting to go out and have fun and celebrate life in general, and the return of good weather in particular, but none of them really cared. Regardless, a good time was had by all present.

Then, yesterday, I attended a Native American Powwow! I could not stay for the entire time, but I did stay for four out of the five hours. I showed up maybe ten minutes before the Grand Entrance of Dancers and then stayed to watch almost all of the dancing. I toured the venders before I left and picked up a tiny dream catcher, fashioned out of pale suede and bright glass and clay and feathers, which I intend to hang in my car. As an artist, I have this problem with buying something I know I could make, but I decided I’d make an exception this once since it was so pretty and since I was supporting another artist. For a description of the dances I saw, I’ll resort to the informative pamphlet they handed out to explain what we saw:

Men’s Traditional Dancers combine drama and grace to tell their stories. Their dances are primarily those of the warrior hunting or searching for enemies. Regalia is made from natural material and is not as brightly colored as other dancers. Some regalia takes years to complete; some is handed down through a family and is over 100 years old.

Women’s Traditional Dance is sometimes called straight dancing. Like men’s traditional, there are many regalia variations. However, regalia is usually made from natural materials like buckskin. A colorful fringed shawl is sometimes carried over one arm, and an eagle feather fan is usually carried in the other hand. The female traditional dancer has a very dignified look. Her movements are slight but regal.

Men’s Grass Dance evolved from an Omaha warrior society. The regalia is unique because it has almost no feathers. Regalia consists of a shirt and trousers with fringe attached. Today, the fringe is made of long pieces of colorful yarn; originally the fringe was made from the long prairie grass native to this part of the country. Legend says, before beginning a powwow young boys were sent out to tramp down and smooth tall grass in the area of the celebration. They tied the grass onto themselves and imitated the swaying movement of the grass as the breeze blew across the prairie.

Women’s Jingle Dress Dance has been termed ‘jingle’ for the metallic clacking noise the dress makes when in movement. Traditionally, cones shaped from chewing tobacco lids were positioned on masterfully-designed dresses. Originally, the jingle dress dancers were called upon to dance for a sick or injured community member; the dance was revered a healing dance.

Men’s Fancy Dancers wear heavily beaded regalia adorned with brightly colored feathers. Many carry a dance stick, hoops or other items in their hands. Fancy dancers are known for their stamina, high jumps, quick footwork and beautiful regalia.

Women’s Fancy Shawl Dance is similar in style and brightness to men’s fancy dance. The women’s fancy shawl dance is the newest form of dancing and was first practiced by northern tribes. The principle feature of this regalia is the brightly colored shawl worn over the shoulders. The long fringe hanging from the shawl’s edges flies around the dancer as she jumps and spins to the music.
For more information on the dances and the group that put on the powwow, go here.

I remember sitting on the hill, soaking up the sunshine and wishing I’d worn a skirt instead of jeans so my legs wouldn’t be absorbing quite so much heat, while listening to the drums pound out a heartbeat. Some of the young female dancers were doing a jingle-dress dance, and so I closed my eyes and listened to the tiny bells dance like rain. It really did feel healing, at least to the spirit, and I was instantly happier and more at peace. However, the men’s Fancy Dance was definitely my favorite because it was the most elaborate and energetic.

After I completed the other duties and errands I had for the day, I returned to my room and made a few more pieces of jewelry, to include another necklace and a bracelet. I’ll post pictures of the latest jewelry in another entry.

May the creative forces of Beltane bless your life and the year to come.

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