For Visitors > What is a Powwow?
Powwows are gatherings that Native American people use as a place to meet, dance, sing and otherwise renew and strengthen our rich culture. These gatherings are held year–round and many Native people travel great distances to attend them. The Ann Arbor Powwow is one of the largest student–run powwows in the country, with more than 1,000 of North America’s greatest singers, dancers, artists and craftspeople.
What's Featured at the Pow Wow?
At the Pow Wow there will be a Native American dance contest where dancers compete in several different dance categories against each other throughout the weekend. There will also be a drum contest where singers from different drum groups will compete throughout the weekend.
Come and observe a Native dance contest with categories like Women's Jingle Dress, Women's Fancy Shawl, Women's Traditional, Men's Grass Dance, Men's Fancy Dance and Men's Traditional.
Hear the songs of some of North Americas best Native singers and drum groups, during our drum contest.
And don't forget to Take a minute or an hour, to shop at our Native American market, where some of North America's best Native artists and craftspeople will be showcasing their work. There will be everything from traditional crafts to contemporary artwork!
And don't forget to listen for the MC to announce intertribals to join in the circle and dance alongside competing dancers, all are invited. Even the little ones!
History of Powwows - Where do Powwows orginate from?
The modern day Pow Wow evolved from the Grass Dance Societies that formed during the early 1800's. The dances were an opportunity for the warriors to re-inact their brave deeds for all the members of the tribe to witness.
The growth of reservations gave rise to the modern Pow Wow. This was a time of transition for Native peoples across North America. Tribal customs and religions were outlawed. The Grass Dance was one of the few celebrations that was allowed into this new era. The Grass Dance became an opportunity to maintain some of the earlier tribal customs that were vanishing. As other communities and tribes were invited to these celebrations, rights of ownership of sacred items necessary to the Grass Dance were formally transferred from one tribe to another. "Inter-tribalism" began to emerge with the sharing of these songs and dances. Gift-giving and generosity were integral aspects of these early festivities, as they still are today.
The modern day Pow Wow bases itself on the fundamental values common to Native Americans throughout North America: honor, respect, tradition, and generosity. Along with their families, thousands of singers, dancers, artists, and craftspeople follow the "Pow Wow Trail" all over the continent to share and celebrate our culture.
As the 21st century approaches, the modern Pow Wow has retained its traditional roots while incorporating the inheritances of an ever-changing world. This melding of the old ways with the new results in an exciting celebration that can be enjoyed by all.
Powwow Singing and Drumming
The lead is the first part of a song. It is sung by the lead singer to introduce the song.
The second is a repeat of the lead that is sung right after the lead by the rest of the drum.
The body is the part of the song that carries the main theme. It is sung by all members of the drum.
The honor beats are three accented beats that occur in between the choruses in southern songs. During northern songs the honor beats are thrown during the second part of the chorus. It is said by some that these beats represent gunshots, and many dancers crouch lower and keep their eyes upward in respect for them. It is also said by some that the honor beats show respect and honor and that they are louder than the regular beat so that the our ancestors and future generations can hear them.
This format of lead, second, chorus, honor beats, and repeated chorus makes one verse, or "push". The average song is sung with about four or five pushes, and occasionally, during a Grand Entry or when a drum gets an itch, a song can last ten or twelve pushes. The first push is always sung at a medium dynamic level and gets louder with succeeding pushes. At the end of a softer push, the Head Singer will pick up the tempo and volume to begin his lead. The rest of the drum will continue to sing at this louder section until the honor beats, when the song is brought down. When the Head Singer desires to end the song, he will motion with his hand to the rest of the drum that the song is ending, and at the end of the last chorus he accents the beat leading into the final three, five, or seven beats.
There are other ways to end a song, but this is the most common. Other options include trick stops, where the drum may stop at a very unnatural place in order to try to trick the dancers into overstepping after the song has ended, or the drum may simply fade away.