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The Arena Director-The Duties Involved During A Powwow

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1997      SPECIAL POWWOW ISSUE v27 n02 p25  
An Arena Director is a vital part of a powwow. The position of arena director evolved from the Whip man. A Whip man was a respected member of the tribe and a dancer. He was responsible to keep the participants of the powwow dancing.

As he was dancing, the Whip man would circle the edge of the dancing arena. If a dancer was sitting down, the Whip man would come and point at the dancer to get up and dance. The dancer would have to listen to the request of the Whip man. If the Whip man came by again and the dancer was still sitting down, he would have to give an offering for his disrespect by being humbled and performing a small giveaway.

At contemporary powwows, an arena director has the same duties as a Whip man. An arena director can request that a dancer dances during an intertribal. But, a dancer is not required to listen as they are to a Whip man.

An arena director must also direct the Grand Entry of the dancers. He instructs them as to the proper order in which to enter the dance arena.

One of the most important duties of an arena director is keeping the dance area clean. There should be no garbage or impurities such as alcohol around a dance arena. Many dancers carry their medicine bundles or spiritual belongings while they dance. It is the responsibility of the arena director that the dance area be clean and as pure and natural as possible while these sacred objects are being used.

It is also the role of the arena director to set the tempo of the powwow. If he notices the dancers appear sluggish and bored, he knows that he let the powwow slack off. The arena director will then liven up the crowd by requesting a particular drum to sing a good song. He might also request a snake dance, a round dance or have the singers dance. These or another special will liven up the crowd and the mood of the powwow.

Experienced dancers make the best arena directors. A person who has been dancing for a number of years knows the expectations of other dancers and the singers as well. He can see when the powwow is dragging on and knows from experience what he can do to create a livelier atmosphere.