Festival had dancing and drumming

Published 6:22 pm Thursday, September 15, 2005

By By JOHN EBY / Cassopolis Vigilant
DOWAGIAC - The circle of life remains unbroken.
An exhibition of Indian dancing at Southwestern Michigan College Sunday for the Minority Coalition's International Festival began with a grand entry in which dancers moved clockwise around the "talking drum" that is "an extension of our heartbeat."
Leading the procession were elders, Donald Summers, a Hartford native who now lives in St. Joseph, and Cleora Morseau of Dowagiac.
Despite the hot sun dancers wore as much as 20 pounds of leather and beadwork with their colorful regalia.
One is a princess.
Sarah Ballew, 12, of Portage, is the reigning "Miss Potawatomi 2005," crowned in Athens, Mich., to represent nine nations.
Her fancy shawl dance with its intricate footwork symbolized a butterfly in flight.
The Potawatomi gathering returns to Rodgers Lake near Dowagiac next summer.
The program closed with a "round dance" in which the audience was invited to participate.
Wesaw said fancy dancing originated with Wild West shows of "Buffalo Bill" Cody. "He had Native dancers doing a really flamboyant, eye-catching style of dance. Their footwork pats that prairie high grass down and chases all the snakes away in time to the drum. It reminds me of modern dances you'd see people doing in clubs to rap or hip-hop music. Guys bust out some crazy moves.
Whether flamboyant or traditional, "Each has their reasons why they dance and their own style," said Wesaw, 31, a 1992 Mattawan High School graduate who was honored as part of the International Festival along with 1963 Dowagiac graduate Mary McFarland of Cassopolis by the Minority Coalition as two community members who work diligently to foster racial harmony.
In an exhibition that was "more of a pow wow-style performance," traditional men danced first.
Wesaw, who also drums, noted high-pitched "northern singing."
Summers, of the eagle clan, said, "It's important to realize that we are all interconnected, like the circle of life. The dancers whoopin' and hollerin' are letting the Creator know that they're happy to be alive and to be here. That's what a lot of our regalia represents. Eagle feathers signify respect for that bird. Different colors represent different things. If you ever want to find out about those things at a pow wow, it's always respectful to ask a dancer what you want and it's up to them whether they want to share with you those secrets.
Jefferson Ballew, "Bear Paw" of the bear clan, said his grandmother lives near SMC in Pokagon Band elder housing.
Wesaw said women possess "the power of giving birth and sustaining life, just like Mother Earth. When we say 'traditional,' we mean older styles of dance. In contemporary times, a lot of things have changed for us, as well, and that includes our dances, which have become a lot more colorful.
Morseau said her regalia "is more sentimental." Beadwork on her moccasins was a gift from a friend. "We walked a good walk together in this physical world." Her fan came from a gathering of the nations pow wow in Albuquerque, N.M. "For me it was like a dream to be able to go to such a big pow wow and participate with all the nations out there. It was just an honor, to say the least." Designs on her skirt represent her parents' clans - her mother was eagle, her father thunder.
Elizabeth Ballew is a traditional dancer, but she previously "tried my hand at fancy shawls. When you see Sarah out there, you can see that's a dance for the very young and athletic. After I became a mother, I slowed myself down."
The shawl draped over Elizabeth's arm signifies "our responsibility as women to take care of our elders and our children. It's a representation of a blanket to keep our elders or our children warm because I acknowledge my responsibility and role as an Indian woman."
Wesaw said he gave each participant some tobacco beforehand.