IndigNation  | by Bev Cardinal

Celebrations with friends, family and community are some of Indigenous culture’s best parts. We know how to spend quality time together and share with guests, especially in the cold, dark winter! This is a time for feasts, round dances and storytelling.

Round Dance 101

A round dance is a traditional First Nation’s community ceremony and celebration. For newbies, it can be somewhat intimidating. But don’t fear… everyone’s welcome! Here’s some basics:

Although round dances are traditionally ceremonial, they’ve also started to reflect contemporary social gatherings. Every round dance has a ceremonial stickman, who is like the emcee. The stickman guides the flow of the evening. He knows the proper songs and most of the singers and picks them in an order that keeps the dance flowing. They don’t sing about anything special — could be a simple welcome, could be about love or heartbreak, or maybe something fun with humour (we Indig peeps LOVE funny stuff!).

Round dance songs are similar to powwow songs but their content is quite different. There’s a lot of experimenting with dynamic shadings and performance style. The song’s end, or tail, might become a chant, or the song might end very softly. As in powwow, singers warble, sing in strong unison, and interject cries and whoops.

The dancers, meanwhile, join hands to form a large circle, symbolically representing the equality of all people on Mother Earth. They move to their left with a side-shuffle step to reflect the drumbeat’s long-short pattern, bending their knees with the beat.

Like other traditional and social gatherings, drugs and alcohol are banned to encourage clean, healthy lifestyles.

Ceremonial round dances begin with a pipe ceremony and feast. Throughout the round dance, Elders and Knowledge Keepers share traditional teachings or stories. There’s a giveaway, and midnight lunch is served.

Yep — we know how to treat people!

Honouring Our Ancestors

As we hold hands and dance in a large circle around the singers, our hearts do not constrict with grief — instead they open with love. This nurturing helps heal trauma, grief, pain and dysfunction. It creates healthy individuals who then understand how to nurture healthy families and, ultimately, healthy communities. This power is honoured as we dance and listen to the songs that remind us of the importance of love.

We feel the spirits of those who have gone before us and who join us in the dancing, bestowing their love on everyone. And we are as one.

The most important role as a “newbie” is to be willing to change your expectations and adapt to new situations. Each round dance is different, and there’ll be many in the coming weeks. Check one out!