Frequently Asked Questions
Here is some commonly used Pow Wow terms (Our thanks to the late Roy Track, who compiled these terms).
Arena: The area inside of the Pow Wow circle where the dancers move in a circular pattern. There are certain times when dancers or spectators may enter the arena. During competition dances, only the dancers are allowed to enter the arena. Judges will be standing and walking just outside the dancers to observe movement for competition.
Arena Directors: The men assigned to coordinate the events on the dance arena, dancers, categories, giveaways, etc.
Blanket Dance: Refers to a purpose rather than a specific dance. A blanket is carried by 4 persons around the perimeter of the dance area to accept monetary contributions. Spectators may contribute voluntarily by throwing coins or bills into the blanket. The purpose is announced prior to the singing of the song, a good purpose indeed.
Bustle: Circular configuration of feathers worn by war dancers, primarily a more modernistic attire for the men fancy war dancers. The bustles are usually worn in pairs, one at the back of the neck and one at the lower back. The bustle sizes vary according to the individual but generally ranges from 24" to 40". The main feathers are from the Eagle and are usually tipped with colorful hackles.
Chorus Girls: Slang term for women singers who generally gather close to the drum and who assist in the singing of the drum songs.
Contest Song: A song for a specific dance category and is sung for judging purposes.
Drum: A descriptive term used to identify a particular group of singers, i.e., the Southern Drum, the Morning Star Drum, the White Eagle Drum, etc.
Emcee: The announcer who keeps the dancers and audience informed on the Pow Wow events and schedules and occasional jokes.
Fancy Dance: A modernistic expression of dancing whereby much body and head movement with perfect timing of footwork to the pace of the drum tempo.
Giveaway: A "Giveaway" is a long standing tradition of appreciation. An event occasioned by an honored person(s) who give thanks and recognition to other individuals such as family, relatives, friends, visitors and bestows upon them gifts of appreciation.
Gourd Dance: A social dance primarily for men but with women participants. The dance is one perpetuated by the Cheyenne, Kiowa and Comanche and taken up by many other tribes. Dancers where red and blue robes draped about the shoulders. Other attire are the beaded and fringed sashes, mescal bead bandoliers worn over one shoulder and the dancer carries a gourd rattle and feather fan. The songs and dance is one where the movement is either stationary or with little foot movement. The dance circle is generally clockwise, are social in nature and solely for the enjoyment of the dancers and singers. From time to time monetary or material gifts are given at the feet of the dancer.
Hackle: A long narrow feather coming in various colors, widely used by fancy war dancers in constructing bustles.
Head Dancer: A designated dancer who is appointed to lead all other dances during Pow Wows or War Dance. The position is one of honor and a big responsibility with all other dancers affording the deserved respect. For any given set of songs, no other dancer will dance until the head dancer commences.
Honor Song: A specific song which is sung to fulfill by request to honor an individual's accomplishment or such other auspicious occasion. The song itself, sung by a particular group of singers, may be one of tribal, family and individualistic significance.
Inter-Tribal: A general term referring to an open Pow Wow dance or song that can be joined by anyone, all tribes and spectators. You will see dancers in street clothing participating in the dance on the Pow Wow arena.
Judge: A person appointed to evaluate and rate dancers in a particular category of competitive dancing (i.e., men, women, fancy, traditional, age groups, etc.). Dancers are judged on overall dancing ability, tribal dress, knowledge of the song(s), and of prime importance, performance of individual dancers who must stop precisely at the last beat of the drum. If the dancer misses that last drum beat, the dancer will automatically disqualify themselves and leave the dance arena. Dancers can also be disqualified during a competitive dance if part of their outfit (not to be called a costume) falls to the floor.
Lead Singer: The principal singer in a drum group who starts the songs by that drum. This is common to the drum groups of the Northern Plains style of singing.
Loo Loo: A vocally high-pitched staccato sound emitted by women Pow Wow participants to praise or otherwise acknowledge the receipt of a gift.
Northern Drum: Refers to the Northern Plains Tribes style of singing (North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and other states and certain provinces in Canada). Songs are characteristically sung at a higher pitch.
Northern Fancy: This refers to a War Dance style of dancing and dress of the traditional Warrior Societies of the Northern Plains tribes. Dancers do not wear the colorful bustles of the fancy dancer. Depending upon the Tribe, they wear only the bustle at the lower back; cloth or buckskin leggings are often worn with a breech cloth. Dance steps are pronounced but not to the extent of the fancy dancer. Roach headdresses are worn with generally two Eagle feathers.
Princess: Title of honor bestowed upon a young woman who has been selected to represent her family, her tribe or a Native American organization. Some qualities exemplified by a Princess are their knowledge of tribal history, promotion and maintenance of traditional values, cultural awareness and self-awareness as a Native American.
Roach: The headdress worn by most male dancers on top of the head and tied beneath the chin. The roach is narrow and long to the back of the neck and is made from porcupine guard hair and a deer tail.
Round Dance: A social dance in which all dancers or spectators can particulate. The dance movement is clockwise in a circular fashion, sometimes holding hands. The dancers step continually to the left in time with the beat of the drum.
Shawl: A fringed garment worm around the women's shoulders or sometimes carried on the arm.
Snag: (noun) A girlfriend or boyfriend.
Snagging: (verb) The art of seeking out a new girlfriend or boyfriend, much like asking someone for a date.
Snake and Buffalo Dance: A series of social songs and dances depicting serpentine movement and then emulating the buffalo. Strictly social dance not to be confused with dances performed by other tribes of the Southwest.
Southern Drum: This refers to the Oklahoma style of singing. Songs are characteristically sung at a lower pitch and the languages of Southern Plains tribes.
Southern Fancy: This is a war dance that refers to the Oklahoma style of men's fancy war dance where by body movement and rapid dancing are paramount. This too is a modernistic style where songs are sung by the Southern Drum in a moderate fast to very fast tempo.
Southern Traditional: See "Straight Dance."
Special: Derives from a "request for a special son," to honor a person. The "special" song is one which has significant meaning for the one so honored in terms of tradition, family history or individual accomplishment. The Special as current used often times refers to the entire process of Honor Song giveaway.
Spread a Blanket: A phrase used in the process of gaining contributions for the stated cause. Similar to the Blanket Dance in purpose except that a blanket is spread on the floor or ground with which to accept voluntary monetary gifts while an appropriate song is sung.
Squeeze: Of the same nature as a Snag (noun) but to a more serious extent and reflective of a longer standing relationship, i.e..…, "my main squeeze."
Starts: Refers to the ultimate length of a song and how many successive times the lead singer starts the song again from the beginning. Also stated as the number of times through a song or push ups (each time a song starts).
Straight (War) Dance: The traditional style of dancing and dress of the Plains Tribes of Oklahoma. Absent are the colorful feathers of the fancy dancers; the Straight dancer in keeping with the traditional warrior society, mode of dress is distinguished by a roach headdress with generally one Eagle feather, cloth or buckskin leggings with breechcloth, and an otter skin tailer down the back. The overall dance is one of smoothness and dignity.
Sycamore: A white person.
Two-Step: A social dance with male and female dancers dancing as partners, this is the only dance where men and women dance with one another. The name comes from the dance steps-two steps forward and one back; similar to the Rabbit Dance or the Owl Dance.
Veteran's Song: A song specially composed to honor a war veteran of one of the Wars (WWI, WWII, Korean War or Vietnam War). Many tribes accord special recognition to their veterans and pay special tribute to the men and women who have served and are serving in the Armed Forces.
War Dance: The traditional dance of many Plains Tribal warriors and warrior societies depicting battle exploits. Changing times have long since led to adaptations and the men dancers more closely display and depict the original war dance. The basic steps are evidenced by all who participate in inter-Tribal dancing.
Warm Up Song: A song specifically called to allow contestants a chance to ready themselves for the contest song or actual contest event.
Women's Buckskin: Refers to the contest category designated for ladies in traditional buckskin dress. The traditional tribal designs on the dresses are handmade with beads or porcupine. The design are specific to their tribe as well as the adornments.
Women's Cloth: Refers to the contest category designated for ladies in traditional dress but not buckskin or fancy dancers.
Women's Shawl: Refers to the contest category designated for younger women. Colorful shawls are an integral part of the dancers' attire. Women shawl dancers are the counterparts of the men fancy dancers; dancing is at a faster tempo than the women's cloth or buckskin.
Photos by Tim H. Murphy Photography.