This blog post is based on an interview conducted by Visit Rapid City with esteemed Eyapaha or Master of Ceremonies at the Black Hills Powwow, Whitney Rencountre.


The Black Hills Powwow in Rapid City is a celebration that bridges generations and cultures. It thrives on the power of the drumbeat and comes alive through handcrafted regalia and the spirited dancers who embody history. Explore the richness of each dance style and discover their individual beauty and meaning.

When you learn the intricacies of each dance style you develop a new appreciation for what you are watching. The purpose of the powwow is to make people feel good, carry on traditions, and bring people together. 

The Drum: The Heartbeat of Tradition

Drum circle singing at the black hills powwow in rapid city, sd

The drum, a central figure at the Black Hills Powwow, holds a profound significance. It symbolizes the heartbeat of the people, with teachings varying among tribes, circles, and families. Made from animal hide and wood, it is a living element that plays an essential role in powwows and ceremonies. Generally, songs at a powwow are played in order of the drum circle.

Women's and Men's Traditional: Honoring Heritage

women's traditional dancer performing at the black hills powwow in rapid city, sd

The Women's Traditional Dance pays homage to grandmothers, mothers, and life-givers. It's full of grace and methodical movements, often featuring buckskin regalia. Each piece of regalia is unique, as most are custom-made. Men's Traditional Dance represents providers, protectors, and warriors, emphasizing balance and symmetry in their movements. While rooted in tradition, each dancer infuses their unique style and expression into the performance.

Women's Fancy Shawl Dance: A Graceful Transformation

women's fancy shall dancer at the black hills powwow in rapid city, sd

Originally, women in the Northern tribes danced in a traditional style, but the Fancy Shawl Dance emerged as a vibrant transformation. Inspired by a grandmother's desire for a faster pace, she wrapped her shawl around herself and requested a quicker song, creating a new style marked by rapid, graceful movements. This dance mirrors the grace of deer, drawing inspiration from the natural world. Over time, it has evolved into one of the most popular dance styles at the Black Hills Powwow.

Men's Fancy Feather Dance: Athletic Elegance

men's fancy dancer at the black hills powwow in rapid city, sd

The Men's Fancy Feather Dance has an intriguing history. Some believe it originated during Buffalo Bill Cody's rodeo performances in the late 1800s, while others trace its roots to Southern tribes. The dance style is heavily influenced by song tempo, with Southern songs being faster and bass-heavy, and Northern songs are higher pitched. It's considered the most athletic and exciting style displayed at the Black Hills Powwow, captivating the audience with its energy and flair.

Grass Dance: Echoes of the Prairie

men's grass dancer at the black hills powwow in rapid city, sd

The Grass Dance's origins vary among tribes, but it was brought to the Lakota and Dakota territory by the Omaha Tribe. It connects back to a time when tribes followed the bison, and representatives would need to flatten the tall buffalo grass to set up camp. The dance features swaying movements to mimic the wind-blown grass of the prairie. Dancers personalize their renditions of this beautiful and symbolic dance, incorporating yarn (the original style) or cloth into their regalia to mimic the movement of the buffalo grass.

Jingle Dress Dance: The Healing Dance

women's jingle dress dancer at the black hills powwow in rapid city, sd

Known as the "medicine dress," the Jingle Dress Dance has its origins among the Ojibwe people in Minnesota. It arose from a dream during a time of sickness, with its powerful sidestep dance and song intended for healing and prayer. The dance is characterized by the distinctive sound of metal jingles attached to the dress, adding to its significance and impact.

Other Dance Styles: A Diverse Tapestry

little kid dancing at the black hills powwow in rapid city, sd

Beyond these main dance styles, you'll also witness the Chicken Dance, inspired by prairie chickens' unique movements, and variations of Southern dance styles. These styles differ significantly in drumbeats, regalia, and dance movements compared to the Northern styles. 

Watch the full video here!


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