By Robert Lucke
To say that traditional dancing at Rocky Boy is a way of life is putting it mildly. For the 5 percent to 10 percent of the young people who dance, it is weekend after weekend all year long.
Not only that but there is big money to be made in winning a dancing contest. But most readily admit that the money is not important. What is important is to make enough money to get to the next competition.
"And it's anti-drug," said 15-year-old dancer Gary Whitford.
"I have been dancing since I was old enough to walk. I am a Prairie Chicken dancer," Gary said.
The Whitford family introduced the Prairie Chicken to Rocky Boy. They got it from a boy named Guy Fox from Spokane. It has become a traditional dance at all powwows. The idea is to dance like a prairie chicken would dance.
"Once I went out and watched prairie chickens dance, and that is what I am trying to do, imitate them," Gary said.
Whitford's abilities have been honored in this year's Rocky Boy's Pow-Wow. He is the president of the Pow-Wow Committee.
His costume, which is ornate and colorful, was made by various friends and relatives. It features lots of pheasant feathers and a bustle made of hawk feathers.
Whitford has been to powwows most every weekend since the beginning of the year. He has traveled all over the western United States and into Canada.
Gary's older brother Dustin just graduated from high school and is attending college at Stone Child. He would like to teach native studies at the college level but says he is keeping his options open. He dances the Prairie Chicken as well.
"I have been dancing as long as I can remember," Dustin said. "I have danced Grass Dance Traditional and now I am into the Prairie Chicken style. I don't spend all my time competing. I dance because it is fun too. I place quite a bit but that is no guarantee of winning. I try to make enough to make it to the next powwow and put a little away."
Gary's costume is colorful and extensive too.
"I could have made my costume all by myself but I am lazy and I don't have the time so I have had lots of help. My bells belonged to my grandfather who passed away, Harold Watson. They are over 60 years old and are holding up still," Dustin said.
Loni Whitford is 22 years old, has gone to Stone Child College and gotten an associate degree. Now she works at the Rocky Boy Clinic where she does health insurance for children.
"I plan on going to the University of Minnesota for a bachelor's degree in business," Lori said.
She has been dancing since she could walk.
"I started out in the Fancy Shawl division and now I have changed to the Jingle category," Lori said. "My costume is made out of bells and they are actually Copenhagen cans turned into cones."
At first the cones for dresses in that division were made of deer hooves but later people turned to cones made of soft metal that really give a jingle with every movement.
Lori Whitford is a one-woman chamber of commerce for the powwow.
"I want to invite everyone out to see the powwow," she said. "There are lots of food and art stands and you can even rent a stand yet. And I want to say that the dancing is a very positive thing for us and all of us are drug- and alcohol-free."
Drug and alcohol free is important. Most dancers mentioned it as did their parents. Some parents said it is a lot of trouble to get ready to dance, takes a lot of time but it is so good to know where their kids are and what they are doing.
Anika TopSky is 23. She went to Northern and got an associate degree and is on her way this fall to Rocky Mountain College at Billings, where she is going into business administration.
"I started dancing when I was real little. I started in Fancy Shawl and when I was a teenager I was a Traditional dancer and now I am a Jingle dancer," Anika said. "Dancing is fun. It keeps you going and seeing your friends doing it, that keeps me active too."
Starting very young, Anika has no doubt that she will still be dancing when she reaches her golden years. She won big time at Browning in July but she and the other Rocky Boy dancers will dance free at their powwow.
"It doesnt look very good to win the purse at your own tournament," Anika said, smiling. "There will be over 700 dancers at our powwow. Everyone from infants to people 80 to 90."
Rooster TopSky is a 17-year-high school student who combines athleticism and sports into his costume and dancing. His costume is bright and beautiful but with subtle Nike and basketball symbols incorporated.
He is an athlete. His favorite class is gym and he is heading to college to study physical education.
"I dance about every weekend all summer at various powwows. I won at Denver and danced at Albuquerque, which is the biggest powwow in the United States. I am a Fancy Dancer and before that I was a Grass Dancer. I am just an all-around dancer. I love every style," Rooster said.
Rooster has a different reason for dancing than most.
"I do it for the endurance and because it's fun and it keeps me in shape," he said.