New Native Nation Dancing Babies

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Dancing Babies
A New England Powwow Custom

by Shelley Garrett Smith

Native Americans in New England have a charming custom called Dancing the Baby. Seeing this for the first time at a Southern New England powwow, an Ojibwa visitor from the Midwest said ,”If people did that back home we’d think they were giving the baby away and didn’t want it.”; so apparently this is strictly a regional tradition. The intent of this practice is to introduce the baby to the community and to ”tie her(his) heart to the drum”, the dance circle drum standing for the heart of the people.

The first time a baby who is not yet walking enters the dance circle, non-related adults carry them through one or more dances. This can be done quietly by friends of the family during a round dance or an intertribal or it may be announced by the MC in a special dance called for this purpose. Because it is a big honor to dance a baby, often other friends and even complete strangers will cluster around the one carrying the child and dance along with them to welcome the infant to the group.

At small powwows babies are often taken up by another friend or an elder at the end of the first dance and danced through another song. When one of my grandchildren was danced at Fire Hawk Memorial Powwow in Connecticut, elders handed her on to other elders and carried her through several songs for more than an hour.

Although she slept through most of her welcome it must have worked; today my granddaughter is in grade school and says she feels best at powwows. She is looking forward especially to the one she and her mother are helping to organize in South Dakota. Hers is yet another heart “tied to the drum” and, so, to the Native American community.

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