1,600 Dancers Perform at the Annual Denver Pow Wow

Nearly 100 tribes come together in the Mile High City honor their heritage

With 1,600 dancers from 98 tribes, the Denver March Pow Wow, March 20-22, 2009, is one of the nation's largest gatherings of Native Americans - and one of the most colorful. Indians from 38 states and three Canadian provinces come together in the Mile High City to sing, to dance and to honor the heritage that has been passed down to them from their ancestors.

A highlight for non-Indian spectators is the modern Pow Wow dancing competitions. While 68 different drum groups keep the beat and sing traditional songs, hundreds of dancers can be on the floor at any one time, creating a spectacle of amazing color, beauty and history.

Dance regalia varies depending on the style of dance, and often by tribe. Traditional dancing was originally a form of storytelling, where warriors acted out deeds committed during a battle or a hunt. Male dancers wear headdresses, referred to as a roach, on their head. The roaches are made with porcupine and deer hair woven together with eagle feathers worn on top. Bone breastplates, eagle feather bustles, beaded arm bands, chokers made of animal bones and anklets of angora fur with large bells are among the finishing touches.

The jingle dress dance is another popular competition, although actual ceremonial jingle dances are not performed in public. Each dancer's dress is covered with dozens of silver cone-shaped, bell-like "jingles" that make a distinctive and pleasing sound when the dance floor is covered with women wearing this melodic dress.

"Everybody Dance!" is the message of the Intertribal Dance: men, women and children of all ages, dancing all styles to the beat of a hundred drums in an unforgettable, swirl of color. Often, spectators are invited to join in - but do wait for that clear invitation from the dancers.

Complementing the dance competition are a storytelling contest, tribal color guard competition, more than 170 booths selling a variety of Native American arts, crafts and products. You can buy jewelry and blankets, pottery and beadwork from some of the nation's greatest Indian craftsman. Try Native American foods such as fry bread and Indian tacos or buy an authentic Cheyenne arrow or a Sioux tomahawk. The Denver March Pow Wow is a glimpse into a parallel and fascinating world of age-old tradition, given fresh life with every step.

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