Celebrate Life with North Dakota Powwows

Dancers and colorful costumes add to the tradition's beauty.

The Algonquin word "pau wau" was the Native American word some of the first Europeans associated with dancing. Although pau wau meant "he dreams" to the Algonquins, the term was eventually accepted by the Europeans to refer to dancing, later being spelled "powwow."

Powwows were originally held in the springtime to celebrate the beginning of new life, but are now held throughout the year. The celebrations often have religious significance, but are also a time for people to gather, sing, dance, feast, pray, renew old friendships and make new ones. These celebrations are still an important part of life for many Native American.

The Grand Entry opens the parade of dancers and is a time for contestants to score points by displaying their style and regalia. Dancers always enter the arbor and dance sun-wise, or clockwise, around an eagle staff. The types of dance are as varied as the colors in the costumes.

  • Men's Traditional Dancer - Decorated with bead and quillwork and a circular bustle of eagle feathers. Portrays the traditional "dancing out" of the story of a battle or a hunt.
  • Men's Grass Dancer - Outfitted with colorful fringe and dancing in movements that resemble grass blowing in the prairie breeze.
  • Men's Fancy Dancer - Wears two brilliantly colored feather bustles, displays fancy footwork, speed, acrobatic steps and spinning motions.
  • Northern Plains Women's Traditional Dancer - Moves subtly, bending her knees in small up and down body movements, while shifting her feet and turning her body slightly. Some traditions say the movement symbolizes a woman watching for her warrior to come home.
  • Women's Fancy Shawl Dancer - Wears decorative cloth dress, beaded moccasins with matching leggings, fancy shawl, and jewelry. Her dance suggests the movement of a butterfly and is similar to the men's freestyle dance.
  • Jingle Dress Dancer - Outfitted in hundreds of small, jingling metal cones, traditionally made of snuff can covers.  In one account, women wearing jingle dresses appeared to a holy man in a dream and taught him how to create the dress, the dance and its music.

Click here for a list of North Dakota rodeos and powwows.