OREM — Quickly stepping to the beat of the throbbing drums, they danced their hearts out in a swirl of color, a tribute to their heritage and their culture.
Hundreds of people gathered together at a powwow at Utah Valley State College Saturday to celebrate Native American culture, reunite with family and friends and, of course, to dance.
The powwow, sponsored by the Native Sun Club at UVSC, was put on to help students and the local community perpetuate native culture, said Ken Sekaquap- tewa, the Native American specialist in the UVSC multicultural center and adviser for the Native Sun Club.
"A lot of our students are what you call 'urban Indians' who haven't had as extensive experience with the culture as they would have if they would've lived on a reservation," he said. "There are elders in the community who can help teach and pass on traditions. Through the powwow, we connect with the community. We help connect that older generation to the younger generation."
A powwow is a celebration, social gathering and dance competition all wrapped into one.
"You see a lot of friends and family," said Shaynalea Miraval, a Navajo-Taos Pueblo from Bloomfield, N.M., attending Brigham Young University.
She said she has been powwow dancing since she was 1 or 2 years old, when her parents began to teach her the dances and the stories behind them.
Saturday, she competed in the butterfly-like women's fancy shawl dance, dressed in yellow, pink and blue, the ribbons from her shawl swirling as she danced to the rhythm of the drums.
"Mainly, what I've been taught is that you're not supposed to dance for competition, you're supposed to dance for those who have passed on, for those with disabilities, for those who can't dance — for the people," Miraval said.
Another fancy shawl dancer, Comanche-Navajo Shania Crank, 7, from Provo, said she has been dancing since she started walking.
"My favorite part is the spinning and dancing — it's fun," she said.
Men's traditional dancer Brandon Mansfield, a Yakama-Hopi and vice president of the Native Sun Club, said that like Miraval and Crank, he danced at powwows from a young age, and if he didn't want to dance, his parents still made him.
"When I look back, I appreciate them doing that because I was ashamed of my culture and I didn't like dancing very much because I didn't like who I was," he said. "But as I've gotten older, I've really grown to appreciate my identity. I've learned to be happy with who I am. I've made a commitment to myself to take every opportunity that allows me to express my culture in any way."