“Mesmerizing” Smoke Dance: An Introduction

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A Haudenosaunee dance, Smoke Dance is not common outside of the north eastern region of the US. As with many native dances, it has multiple tales of origin which we will explore at another time. The purpose of this article is to introduce this beautiful and exciting dance to those who are not familiar with it. We were unfamiliar with it, except in name only, until adding pow wows such as the Marvin Joe Curry Veteran’s Pow Wow in Salamanaca, New York to the Crazy Crow Trading Post Pow Wow Calendar. Watching YouTube videos, it is not hard to believe their claim as North American’s largest Smoke Dance Competition. Watching Smoke Dance contest videos, you will simply be mesmerized by the beauty and athleticism of the dance, especially that of the women dancers.

Adult Women’s Smoke Dance Salamanca Powwow 2017 Second Smoke Dancers (Friday) BEST 2011 Gathering of Nations

On the “pow wow circuit” amid more common dances such as traditional and grass dance, the Smoke Dance would occasionally be done as a special dance, beginning in the 1920s or 1930s. The Smoke Dance is originally a war dance, which was danced only by men. The Smoke Dance performed as it is today is a recent creation. While not considered an Earth Song (Social Song), it is has recently gained popularity because of Smoke Dance Contests. Over the past few decades while putting on “Shows” or exhibitions of Iroquoian Singing and Dancing, some singers sped up the tempo of the old “War Dance “songs to see if the dancers could keep up. The result is the ‘Smoke Dance. During Smoke Dance Contests, both the new faster and older slower “War Dance” songs are sung for the men’s contests while the women dance to faster songs only[1].

Teen Girls Smoke Dance Salamanca Powwow 2017 Second Round

The “rebirth” of the Smoke Dance has allowed it to become known as a women’s dance,and though both men and women compete in Smoke Dance, it’s the women’s competition that’s often the highlight. Once a ceremonial dance for men, women have been publicly dancing the current iteration of Smoke Dance since the 1960s.

Today, Smoke Dance is strictly for show; it’s a competitive dance, or a special dance, not something that is generally treated with the ceremony it may once have garnered. As a show dance, it’s splendid: The fast beat prompts women dancers to seemingly fly across the dance arena as if on air. The men’s dance generally has a slower tempo, though both sexes use similar footwork. As with all dances, ending with the final beat of the drum is crucial, as is staying on the beat. Watch the videos for some very creative ways that the dancers accentuate the final beat. Other than those guidelines, the Smoke Dance is open to a variety of individual interpretations and styles that will both please and surprise the observer.[2]

Men’s Smoke Dance Salamanca Powwow 2017 Third Round

Music and regalia are simple, but elegant. The music is provided by a solo singer and a single water drum, though some singers will use a skin drum, creating a deeper sound. Women’s regalia, cloth dresses with raised beadwork or appliqués, is kept relatively plain, as is men’s regalia—bustle-free, often with a feathered cap known as a gustoweh, and possibly an apron over a cloth top and pants, sometimes featuring flat or raised beadwork.

Marvin “Joe” Curry Veterans Pow Wow – “Smoke Dance Central”
The annual Marvin “Joe” Curry Veterans Pow Wow is held at the Veterans Memorial Park in Salamanca, New York, during the 3rd weekend of July and hosts the Biggest Smoke Dance contest in North America. The pow wow is organized and hosted by Iroquois Post 1587 with support of the Seneca Nation and the Seneca Allegany Casino. The pow wow plays host to many different dance contests, but the smoke dance is always the most popular. In the videos, you’ll see the Best Male vs Best Female Smoke Dance Special Sponsored by Heath & Nicole Hill. The fast footwork will definitely leave you breathless!

Adult Women’s Smoke Dance Salamanca Powwow 2017 Second Round

Smoke Dancing on Video
Here are a a couple more video samples of some of our favorites after watching YouTube Smoke Dance videos for hours. Caution, it’s hard to stop!

Sr Men’s Smoke Dance Salamanca Powwow 2017 Second Round


Resources[1] ohwejagehka.com/songs/smokedance.htm: Ohwejagehka: Ha`degaenage: is a nonprofit organization based on Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario Canada that was established to help preserve and nurture the Iroquoian languages and songs.

[2] indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/the-origins-of-the-smoke-dance/: The Origins of the Smoke Dance, Autumn Whitefield-Madrano- August 12, 2011