I was sitting at the park a few nights ago watching my kids play, when out of nowhere a little girl came racing toward the jungle gym squealing with excitement and shouting, “My play! My play! I’m so HAPPYYY!” Her enthusiasm was contagious and I thought to myself – that is exactly how I feel at pow-wow time.
I love to dance but after a breast cancer diagnosis in 2012, dancing got put on the back burner. Two years later I am now cancer-free but left with lots of bills and work to catch up on. So when I get the chance to dance at an actual pow-wow I want to run screaming toward the dance arena just like that kid, with my feathers flying through the air screaming, “My play! My play! I’m so HAPPYYY!”
Still, I wish I were cooler about things and not bubbling over with so much enthusiasm. I wish I was one of those “awesome pow-wow moms”. You know her? She’s the laid back dancer with that beautiful stoic look on her face. She’s the one whose kids all have fully beaded outfits and stay clean the entire weekend. She gracefully glides through two songs without breaking a sweat, takes first and then floats back to her perfect campsite where her children wait for her under a pretty gazebo. There they sit peacefully colouring and eating the organic homemade snacks she pre-packed for them the night before. Then they have a full on polite conversation in fluent Ojibwe.
I have no idea how “awesome pow-wow mom” does that. I have tried to hack her life but it is impossible and her secrets are well guarded. Usually the Saturday ‘morning-of’ a pow-wow, I end up tearing around the house because I slept in. Geeze! I shouldn’t have stayed up so late doing that last minute beading! We pack the car in record time and if I’m lucky I’ll have five minutes to stop at Lone Wolf for a much needed coffee. By the time we get to the pow-wow and get parked I’m already sweating!
Far too many of my “most embarrassing moments” happened to me while I was dancing but the following story takes the prize. I was waiting for my category to be called out when suddenly I felt a sting on my lower back. “Ouch!” I said. Then I felt another. “Ag’iiii” I screamed out. Then a third, fourth and fifth bite. I stood up right quick and with a desperate look on my face, started flailing my arms behind my back trying to swipe away whatever was stinging me.
What I didn’t know, was that a baby black widow spider had made it’s way up my regalia and down the back of my top. Panic set in as the spider continued to bite me in a vertical line running down my back, over my bum and into my underpants. I was so freaked out that a spider was traveling into my underpants that I didn’t realize I’d stepped out from our tent and partially into the dance arena. Fringe, sequins and beads were flying everywhere as I hyperventilated, screaming and stripping out of my regalia as fast as I could – twirling in a circle and slapping my butt to try and kill this spider.
Finally with one hard ‘SMACK’ right on the tush, I got it. What a relief! That’s when it dawned on me that I was standing just inside the dance arena, half dressed, still holding my underpants in the final death grip that killed the spider. Everyone was witness to my frantic strip and was laughing out loud. Utter horror set in. ‘Oh my God!’ I cringed. I was so humiliated! However, at that point my butt hurt more than my pride so off I ran to the closest port-a-potty, totally embarrassed, to try and retrieve the bug from my underpants in privacy.
Some people might read about my humiliation and think, ‘how could you go back out there again?’ Shame can be a powerful weapon. It has notoriously tried to cement a great wall separating indigenous people from our dances for generations. I did quit dancing once – but that drum always calls me back.
There is tangible power when the thunder of a live drum echoes against your own heartbeat. If you let the drumbeat sink down into your soul, humiliation fades away and the drum calls your spirit up higher. Suddenly you are connected to the earth, all of creation, your people, your ancestors, your descendants, the drum and the Creator all at the same time. When you allow yourself to become present in that moment; somehow the drum purges you of shame and in its place comes a supernatural level of dignity & self-respect that most people never reach on their own.
To all my beautiful Ongwehowe ‘cousints’, don’t worry about what people might be thinking when they see you dancing. Heck with them! They shouldn’t be looking at you that hard anyways. It doesn’t matter if you step off beat, do a weird move that trips you up or wind up in the dance arena slapping your butt trying to kill a spider. Let that drum beat sink down into your soul and lift you up higher. Dance on, dance hard, and take pride in who He created us to be.