Dancers and spectators set foot inside the Northern Arizona Academy Gym in the small dusty town of Winslow, Arizona, on Saturday, January 25, to finally have their first dance of the New Year.
"Boy, has it been a while," said champion fancy dancer Rudy Bob, Diné, who was out of breath after dancing in the grand entry. "I haven't danced since October, and even though it’s crowded, we came because there’s no other pow wow for a bit."
Earl Sherman, Diné and Ute, who also attended the Winslow Residential Hall Youth Powwow, said that many dancers came from far away because they hadn't danced in long time due to all the recent weather cancellations.
There are a lot of people here because there are hardly any pow wows around here," Sherman said. "They put this pow wow at the right time. There’s no competition anywhere else and dancers are itching to dance after a long layoff."
However, the popularity of the pow wow also made the small venue less than ideal for the many people ready to dance and congregate. Moreover, in order to maximize value for the teen students and their younger peers, the pow wow committee had full categories for them, but to the chagrin of many older dancers, all the adult categories were combined into one competition.
"We were all really looking forward to this pow wow, especially in the winter but some people were disappointed that they combined the adults," Sherman said. "There were more people earlier, too, but when they found out that the adults weren't going to be in the contest many of them laid back and didn't dance in the evening."
"I know that some people didn't like that we combined the adult categories, but we wanted to focus on the young kids and teens and I think they got a lot," said Thomas Yazzie, Pow wow coordinator and longtime northern traditional dancer.
Nonetheless, more than a 100 dancers and several hundred people attended the event to usher in the first pow wow of the winter season. Yazzie, Diné, of Teesto, Arizona, put the event together for the children of the Northern Arizona Academy.
"I am one of the sponsors for the sophomore class and we were talking about how we can make money for the kids and I know how to coordinate a pow wow, so I figured, let's go ahead and make this happen," Yazzie said.
Originally, the fundraiser was supposed to be just a pow wow performance but Yazzie thought more money could be raised. And eventually, at least $3,000 was raised for the academy.
"It was really fun,” said Bob, Diné, 15, “Especially since I hadn't danced in a long time. It was Bob's first pow wow since the Navajo Nation Fair in September.
Instead of dancing in his category unchallenged, Bob decided to dance with perennial champion Spike Draper, Diné, of Upper Fruitland, New Mexico, in the men's category.
Southern straight dancer Ryland Jim, Diné/Hopi, of Twin Lakes, N.M., (Diego Robles
"I came in second place, but I think I gave him a run for his money,” Bob said. “The whole time I was thinking 'what would Isaiah do?’” His older brother Isaiah is arguably the best fancy dancer in all of Indian Country.
Despite the crowded conditions and limited categories, Brian Yazzie was glad he came.
"I love pow wows and I didn't get my fix for New Year's Eve," Yazzie said laughing. "They cancelled at least five of them on that day, but thank God for this one."