The Norman Transcript

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January 5, 2014

Native American inter-tribal dances foster energetic competition, camaraderie and cultural rejuvenation

Powwows — get-togethers sponsored by Native Americans for dancing, singing, drumming and conversation — are one way elders instill enthusiasm and reverence for traditional culture in the younger generation.

Many powwows are hosted in Norman each year, and generally anyone, regardless of tribe or even no American Native affiliation, are welcome to attend.

Dancing forms include gourd, grass, war and others. Fancy dancing is a style that requires athletic stamina and split-second dancer response to rapid drumming variations designed to deceive the dancer into missteps.

Powwow dance competitions for cash prizes are common but not necessarily a given.

“I had a line of fancy dancers before me,” Dijay Yarholar said. “My dad and all my uncles were fancy dancers. Even my aunt, Beverly Jaquez, was one of the first lady fancy dancers.”

Dijay Yarholar is a 30-something Cheyenne-Arapaho who spends many weekends with wife, Erin, and their young daughters at powwows near and far.

“You can pretty much find a powwow every single weekend in Oklahoma,” he said. “Red Earth is not the only one.”

Yarholar has been dancing since he was 6, with some breaks during the years because of youth sports activities. He still plays team basketball with other guys his age and finds the physical conditioning essential to being a successful dancer.

“It takes a lot of energy to do some of these dances,” he said. “They’re very up-tempo and the drummers can be tricky.”

In Yarholar’s experience, the outfits worn for dancing have changed more than any other powwow aspect.

“When I first started, they weren’t as bright and shiny as today,” he said.

Neon-colored beadwork is common, and the intent is to stand out and demand attention from judges.

“I’m getting a new outfit that will be strictly traditional Cheyenne-Arapaho designs,” Yarholar said. “Every tribe has their own style and design in the beadwork.”

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