“For me, dancing is my happiness and where I find peace and essence within the arena.”
For the coming weekend the Six Nations community will be preparing for two of the largest summer events that will take place as showcases of culture and coming together.
The Grand River Champion of Champions Powwow begins on Friday, July 21, and the 5th Annual Lyle Anderson Memorial Smoke Dance Contest kicks off in the afternoon of Sunday, July 23. Both events will bring together hundreds of dancers, singers and vendors of diverse back grounds.
But the triumph of dancers in the thick summer heat is sometimes over-looked. So, to honour the powwow trail and the path of a dancer, Two Row Times reached out to 17 year-old Marissa Anderson from Six Nations for a Q&A.
Anderson’s Onkwehon:we name is Degahnegahkwa which means “she gathers water,” and she is of the Turtle Clan and Mohawk Nation. She is both a smoke dancer and jingle dress dancer, who has hopes of attending Niagara College for Police Foundations in the near future. Along with aspirations for the future, she carries responsibilities and ideals that many dancers carry as they inspire other youth and children during their travels. Here is her interview:
How long have you been dancing?
I have been dancing ever since I was a little girl in tiny tots. I am now in my last year of the teen category. I compete nation-wide in the smoke dance and jingle dress categories. As it is my last year in teens, I will giving back to the circle by hosting a Smoke Dance and Jingle Dress Teen Vs. Women Special this upcoming weekend during the Grand River Powwow and Lyle Anderson Smoke Dance Memorial.
What inspired you to dance and how has it impacted your life?
My inspiration to dance came from my Mom Mandy, my Gramma Evelyn and my Auntie Charlene. I’ve always enjoyed watching them and [I became] the dancer I am today because of them. Dancing has impacted my life socially – I have gained so many family and friendships over the years across North America.
If you make your own regalia, how does it feel to be able to wear something you’ve made for yourself?
I make my own dresses and it’s the best feeling dancing in something that I made, it makes me dance harder because it shows that I am proud of what I made and what I am capable of doing. I also made a few other people’s dresses and shirts, and I love seeing others dance in what I made.
Many dancers are taught that when they wear their regalia they have to carry themselves as role models, were you taught something similar?
Yes, I was taught that when I’m in my outfit I need to be a role model and set a good example, nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter if someone tries “copying” you, because when you dance you are sharing your gift and your ability to dance with everyone and it doesn’t matter. I was taught that when I dance I not only represent myself but also my family and my community.
How does it feel as a dancer, to possibly inspire other young ladies to dance?
My favourite thing ever is inspiring the youth dancers. At Salamanca pow wow, I had a few little girls come up to me and tell me that I am their idol when it comes to dancing and that is one of the main reasons why I will continue to dance. I will dance for the little ones who look up to me, my elders, my family, my community and most importantly, I will dance for those who can’t.
If you had to compare Haudenosaunee with Powwow dancing, what would you say are the biggest differences and similarities?
The biggest differences between Haudenosaunee and Pow wow dancing are the different directions you dance in, the outfits, and the songs. The similarities are that you can travel everywhere to participate in pow wows just as you can to attend ceremonies or go to socials and sings.
Has dancing given you anything that you couldn’t get elsewhere? Be it new confidence, higher self esteem, a way to connect with your culture.
Dancing has given me new friendships that I wouldn’t change for anything. I also get an excitement in my body and happiness that nothing else can give me. Dancing isn’t something that you take advantage of because there are people who can’t dance and wish they could. Dancing is a gift that you should treasure. For me, dancing is my happiness and where I find peace and essence within the arena. It is where I escape from reality for a little bit. I am forever grateful to have the ability to dance.
Two Row Times extends the best of wishes to all competing and travelling dancers this weekend.