Ross senior Savanah Phillips spends her summers traveling around the country competing in dance competitions at Native American powwows. Growing up on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton “in a powwow-oriented family,” she learned the dances at a very young age. For her Senior Project, Savanah’s goal is to educate people about the dances and what they mean to her and other Native Americans.
Her project will be a creative mix of video footage of her performing at powwows, interviews with dancers from many different Native American tribes, information about the origin and significance of different dances, original artwork that expresses her view of Native American traditions, and finally, a live performance of several dances.
One of Savanah’s creations will be a watercolor painting of the regalia, or colorful outfits worn by Native American dancers. Regalia is an important part of powwow dancing, and the pieces, including dresses and beadwork, can cost thousands of dollars. Savanah explained that at many of the competitions, you can win prize money and regalia.
Powwow dancing can be an intense experience, Savanah said, because there are many rules and regulations and protocols. For example, if you don’t have the right regalia, you are not taken seriously. But she also said that dancing is important for everything from passing on customs and traditions to emotional healing: “It can be a form of therapy and a self-confidence builder, especially for young women.”
Next up for Savanah will be a few powwows in the spring where she will perform dances including the Jingle Dress Dance, a beautiful expression that is supposedly based on a Native American elder’s vision of a healing dance for a young girl. Savanah will perform this dance and a few others on Senior Project Music and Dance Night at 7pm on January 22, which is open to the public.