Friday, November 9, 2012

Outsider Perspectives on American Indian Dances

As some of you know, I teach ESL (English as a Second Language) at the university. One great thing about this job is that I get to learn about the many different cultures of the international students in my classes. It’s really opened my eyes to the rest of the world and how they think. That can be both incredibly interesting and disturbing at the same time. :)

Another wonderful thing about this job is that I get to share our American culture with people from many different countries. Sometimes our cultural differences aren’t too different, but at other times, I can see the incredulity and wonder on their faces when we talk about some of the things that Americans think or do.

This year, I have the opportunity to teach the American Culture through Cinema class. (I had to fight Mrs. Blackburn for it.) Since I believe that in order to really understand people, you need to know about where they come from (culturally, mentally, emotionally, etc.), we began by looking back at, among other issues, the history of our country and the First Peoples. Days later, we ended this portion of the class by watching the movie Smoke Signals (great movie, by the way). Curious as to what my students thought, I wanted to get their perspective on Native American culture. One of the ways that I did this was to give them a homework assignment that required them to go to YouTube and watch Native dancing at a powwow. They then had to write a short paragraph about their impressions.

With their permission, I’ve copied a few of the paragraphs below. (One note: all of my students in this class are from China.)

At the beginning, I feel the music is so loud and strange. But I still can accept it. People who sing try to press their throat in order to make a variegate voice. The language they sing is so different, and it makes me think about a wild forest life. When they sing together, I can feel it’s powerful and strength, and a little mysterious.

Tonight I saw a video about “Powwow” on youtube. It is “Gathering of Nations Powwow.” I think the powwow in India (I’m sure this was a typo. They know we are talking about American Indians. J ) is just like hmong people celebrate themselve’s festival in China…They dress up and wearing jewelry, ear-rings and some prepared, particular feather. And they just walk in a circle, dance, play drum. In China when I traveled to Southwest where they have hmong people, they performan to me. I think it’s a little similar. But not same. Actually, I like the lifestyle they lived. They treat Powwows as a big day and well prepared to coming.

The music has strong sense of rhythm, but I can’t understand what they are talking about. I think they focus on the beats. The costume is different. I think they like to use feathers to adorn themselves. There are small bells fastened on their ankles. So when they are dancing, it sounds ring ring. I think it is interesting. In addition, I think they will have a sore throat if they sing a long time as that.

Yeah, what an amazed feeling! I never seen this before though the powwow is very like some natural minority dance in China. I think it is used to describe a meeting like military because they carry… weapons. Yet, I really like the colorfulness. What’s more, the drum beats make the greatest sense with the Indians dance with it. It really amuses me.

So, the next time that you go to a powwow and watch the dancers, listen for the “ring, ring” of the bells and revel in the feeling of power, strength, and mystery.


  1. The Pow Wow is different for every tribe,as for the Lakota the pow wow dances came about observing animals.The music is drum beat and the singing is in Lakota language but they stretch the words long.Pow wows they have dance compititions to show skills.The dress is different for every dance catagory,the veterans lead the grand entry at the beginning when all dancers enter the arena.Then comptition starts with judges and goes for 2 or 3 days.

    1. Thanks Randy. You don't notice the details like that if you aren't there in person for the whole thing. I'll have to go to a 2 or 3 day long Pow wow next time I'm up there.

    2. The guy dancing in the photo above is a Traditional dancer,he is that catagory,that is the best time to experiance it is to go a pow wow.Alot happen in the summer time here,I will take you to one if I get the chance Alice.