Ricky - That is awesome how you were brought into dancing, and dancing fancy shawl. What does dancing mean to you personally? I know you mentioned earlier that you dance for Him and for those who can't dance. What does dancing mean to you, and what goes into dancing that people don't see at the Pow Wow?
Teah - Dancing means so many things to me. In a way it's like an escape. Sometimes it feels like you're in an entirely different world, but one you've known for your entire life. It's hard to describe what it feels like because you're in such a state of focus but you're also letting yourself go at the same time. Dancing, especially in Fancy Shawl, is such a wonderful outlet for expressing yourself. It just gives you a wonderful feeling. Fancy Shawl in particular was originally created as a way for women to be able to express themselves and dance with more freedom. Up until that point only men could dance in such a way, in fact women were not even permitted to dance in the circle with the men for a very long time; They had to dance outside. The women who broke away from these traditions, deciding to throw their shawls over their shoulders and dance in a way similar to the male Fancy Dancers, and eventually make the move to dance in the circle alongside the men, they took some very bold risks, much like the women during the Women's Rights Movement. When I dance, I want to honor what they did.
The main thing with dancing is to remember why you dance and not to let yourself get wrapped up in the competition, which many tend to do. It's so much more than winning money or showing off.
As far as what goes into dancing behind the scenes, there's an awful lot of sewing and practice. This dance is extremely athletic and takes a lot of work. It's very important to keep fit and healthy, so often before a pow wow i spend a lot of time running and lifting weights and eating a little more protein. The regalia is no easy task either. There's been a rise in dancers doing what is referred to as old style fancy, which is much more simple style of regalia and closer to how the original fancy shawl dancers dressed, but because I dance contemporary style, it requires a lot more sewing and other work because it needs to look flashy and stand out. There's a lot of intricate applique, and the dresses are usually sewn differently, often with a flounce which takes a lot of skill to sew correctly. Usually my own regalia is a team effort between myself, my mom, and my grandmother. I come from a long line of wonderful seamstresses and quiltmakers so each of us have some experience with sewing. Each of us have our own strengths and weaknesses as well, so where one of us lacks skill, the other typically picks it up (my grandmother usually helps with the flounce and sleeves; she's amazing when it comes to intricate needlework and eyeing things) Because we all work on it together, I feel that whenever I dance, I'm carrying them all with me.
Ricky - That is so amazing! Myself, I never knew so much went into dancing behind the scenes until I went to the the Murfreesboro Pow Wow early this year with Holly & Jeff and she was telling me some about it, but then I heard her talking to so many of the mom's who were helping sew for their kids. That part of it I had just never thought of. That's awesome that you put so much work and effort into your dancing. I want to thank you so much for your time! What is one thing that you wish people knew about what it means to be Native today?
Teah - I guess what I would want people to know is that even though we're all different, we're also very much alike. We all came from one place, and no matter how we look or speak or believe, we're all the same deep down. We have feelings, we have dreams, we want to love and be loved just like everyone else does. It's hard to be a Native American in today's society because there are still so many stereotypes and myths that surrounds us. If I could tell the whole world one thing, being a Native American woman, it would be to ask that, instead of profiling us by what you've heard taught or read in books or have seen in movies, look at us for who we are; we're people. Living, thinking, spiritual human beings, and we just want peace for the world like everyone else.
Ricky - One more question I wanted to ask and you just reminded me with your answer. In regards to Native American women. In our country, and in Canada, there is an epidemic of murdered and missing Native American women. It doesn't get any attention mainstream media wise that I've ever seen. What is happening and what can we do to help spread the word to get this to stop?
Teah - I couldn't say for sure what is or why it's happening. There's such a long history of crimes against Native women, and children too, and many of those stories get "lost in the shuffle" too. I think it all goes back to that stereotype of Native peoples being worth less than others, that we're uneducated and primal in our decisions and culture, so many people don't see these atrocities as needing to be publicized because, in a sense, we're just not worth the time; we don't matter as much other people do. With women especially, it takes a lot more to prove ourselves as individuals. We're often so maligned by the media, made out to be some sort of object for men to gain or a weakling that needs to be rescued or protected. The images created by the media have taken such a toll on women as well as Native people in general that we're not viewed in the same way as others.
Thanks to social media outlets we now have so many ways to spread the word about these horrible crimes, but we have to take advantage of them. It's up to us to make sure people are made aware that these things are happening and that they need to stop. One of my mom's favorite quotes is, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." (I'm not positive about who said it originally, but it's usually attributed to Edmund Burke). If we remain silent when we know that there's evil being done, then we're really no better than the one's who do the act themselves. It's so terrible and it needs to be stopped. No one deserves to be treated this way.