Love of dance spurs record CWC powwow turnout

Quentin Friday, Trayshon Spoonhunter and Wilson Brockie wait their turns on the dance floor. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)

Small honorariums from Central Wyoming College reward all participants, including the tiny tots

— May 7, 2013

At a time when most social powwows in the West are shrinking, the annual gathering in the Central Wyoming College (CWC) gym has bucked the trend, growing larger year by year, according to Sergio Maldonado, the diversity coordinator at CWC.

“There’s no competition,” he said. And ordinarily the powwows shrivel when there is no big purse for the best dancers. “That’s what usually brings the dancers out. Competition and the chance to win some serious money.”

Dominic Littleshield, 50, studied at CWC and competed on the powwow circuit as a northern traditional dancer. Today, he is chairman of the school board at St. Stephens School.

Instead of encouraging dancers to vie for big cash prizes and risk going home with nothing, the college diversity committee pitches in $3,500 to guarantee an honorarium for every dancer, including the tiny tots under six years of age.

“It might just be a five-dollar bill for the little ones,” Maldonado said. “But tonight everyone goes home a winner.” Donations from the Wind River and Shoshone Rose casinos covered the other expenses for the evening, Maldonado said.

About 180 dancers participated in the events, up from 137 last year. Boys and girls who were still learning from parents and other relatives danced first. Then came the teens, adults and seniors. Six drum groups took turns keeping the beat.

“It gets everyone together,” said Dominic Littleshield, 50, who danced in the men’s traditional category. “This event gets the powwow season off to a good start.” Littleshield is chairman of the St. Stephens school board, and he has loved dancing and powwows since he was a teen.

“I started dancing seriously after I graduated from high school in 1981,” he said. “I wanted to travel to powwows in the summer and meet people and see the country.” He competed for years in northern men’s traditional dances and wore Northern Arapaho regalia.

“Powwows have become very competitive,” Littleshield said. “They are not usually this well attended unless they pay off.”

Littleshield studied at CWC in the early 1980s and was one of the organizers of spring powwows that, at the time, were run by students.

Keegan Her Many Horses performs in the men’s fancy dance at the Central Wyoming College powwow on Saturday night. Earlier in the evening, the high school junior won the $500 first prize in a teen dance competition at Wind River Casino. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)
Keegan Her Many Horses performs in the men’s fancy dance at the Central Wyoming College powwow on Saturday night. Earlier in the evening, the high school junior won the $500 first prize in a teen dance competition at Wind River Casino. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)

“My grandmother raised us and made our costumes,” Littleshield remembers. “She told me and my brothers to go and dance because we enjoy it. She said, if you dance for the money, you are dancing for the wrong reason. She taught us well.”

Just as Littleshield remembers it from three decades ago, the dance floor at CWC was full of young people in hand-sewn regalia who danced the dances they learned from their elders.

Women danced the shawl and jingle dances as well as traditional dances. When the senior women took the floor, one woman swayed and shuffled across the floor balancing with her cane. Between performances, the entire community took to the floor in a round dance, which George Abeyta, the MC, introduced as an “intertribal” dance.

Quentin Friday, 12, of Ethete, was dressed in the traditional Northern Arapaho regalia for the grass dance, with multi-colored streamers at his shoulders and waist.

“I danced the grass dance all my life,” Friday said. “My dad, too. My mom and my older brother taught me.”

Asked for the secret to a great grass dance performance, Friday kept it simple: “Footwork and spinning,” he said. “Footwork and spinning.”

Friday was waiting his turn on the floor with his friends, Trayshon Spoonhunter, 11, a Lakota and Northern Arapaho from Ethete and Wilson Brockie, 10, of Fort Washakie. Spoonhunter was in the chicken dance. Brockie was also a grass dancer.

“I learned from my mom,” said Brockie, who says he is part Eastern Shoshone, part Northern Arapahoe and part Gros Ventre. The three boys seemed at least as interested in their slurpees as the tiny tots dance performance.

Later in the evening, dancers who had competed in a dance competition at the Wind River casino began drifting in to join the festivities.

Keegan Her Many Horses in his dance regalia. He is a junior at Wyoming Indian High School, where he competes in cross country, basketball and track. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)

Keegan Her Many Horses, a junior at Wyoming Indian High School, took home $500 for winning first place in the teen boy’s fancy dancing competition. Apparently a bit of a celebrity on the local dance scene, Her Many Horses delivered a whirling, stutter stepping solo performance before returning later to join the men’s fancy dancing group performance.

“I’ve been doing this since I could walk,” said Her Many Horses, who also competes for the basketball, cross country and track teams at Wyoming Indian. The school’s runners are coached by Keegan’s father, Chico Her Many Horses, who performed with the senior dancers.

“Fancy dancing is like freestyle,” Keegan said. “You can do anything. I have lots of moves. You keep time with the beat and just try to do the moves that will get the judges to look at you.”

— Ron Feemster covers the Wind River Indian Reservation for WyoFile in addition to his duties as a general reporter. Feemster was a Visiting Professor of Journalism at the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media in Bangalore, India, and previously taught journalism at Northwest College in Powell. He has reported for The New York Times, Associated Press, Newsday, NPR and others. Contact Ron at ron@wyofile.com.

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  1. A descriptive glimpse of the sense of Community, friendships expressed through this annual cultural down home celebratiory gathering, is conveyed in Feemster’s article. I so appreciate this news of my friends. I request we WyoFile readers receive more glimpses of this everyday spirit more often, so we feel this enjoyment of being themselves through such articles.

    Would it be possible for this program event committee to find ways to now travel? I miss the friendly inclusion of this authentic community, and offer to assist in plans to bring a mini-event to Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin.