Watch excerpts from performances at a contemporary powwow at the Trail of Tears Park in Hopkinsville, KY in this video from the Dance Arts Toolkit series. These peformances show how Native American dance traditions continue to be shared.
A powwow is a planned social gathering to celebrate native heritage. Some powwows take place on reservations, but many are held in urban community centers, parks, schools, or other areas. Powwows offer a chance for Indians of diverse cultural background and non-Indians to visit with friends, make new friends, and learn about native dance, music, and crafts.
Although powwow customs vary from place to place, there is a general order to events. Often, the dancers warm up before the formal opening of the powwow with Round Dances (slow circle dances using a side-together step in a formal circle). Everyone is invited to participate in these dances and experience the camaraderie of the dance.
The formal opening of the powwow is the Grant Entry led by an honor guard carrying an eagle staff, the American (or Canadian) flag, and often state and tribal flags as well. The audience is expected to stand and remove their hats during the Grand Entry. The honor guard usually includes native veterans. Behind them, the dancers enter by category. Behind the honor guard come any invited dignitaries, chiefs, leaders, or honorary powwow princesses, followed by the dancers.
The regalia (clothing and other items worn by the dancers) of each dance category ae as important as the dance steps and make the various dancers easy to identify. First come the men dancers, traditional dancers first, followed by grass dancers and fancy dancers. Women traditional dancers are next, and behind them come the women fancy shawl dancers and the jingle dancers, followed by the junior boys and little girl dancers.