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Old Elk represents 'Crow style' throughout circuit

ANADARKO, Okla. - Most people throughout Indian country will be traveling many miles to get to the National Powwow to either compete for prize money or watch their favorite dancers. But for Dora Old Elk, 30, a Crow and Fort Peck Sioux who grew up in Crow Agency and Billings, Mont., it is only a short distance away.

''I think the National Powwow has the potential of being one of the biggest, best pow wows in Indian country,'' Old Elk said. ''I know it's really a tough location. It's right in the middle of some really great pow wows that are going on in the circuit. I think it's a great opportunity for those who haven't been to the D.C. area to come out and check it out.''

In high school, Old Elk moved to Rockville, Md., where she now works as an administrative assistant with the IHS. Every summer, she makes trips back to Crow Reservation to visit relatives and participate in both the Crow Sun Dance and Crow Fair.

''I was in the arena before I could even walk,'' Old Elk said during a recent phone interview, where she waited on a friend flying into the Baltimore-Washington International Airport for the National Powwow. ''My mom used to dress us up and carry us around. For as long as I can remember, I have always been in the pow wow arena dancing.''

Old Elk said that she attends at least eight pow wows a year throughout the United States, with some of her favorite pow wows being Gathering of Nations, Stanford University Powwow and the Haliwa-Saponi Powwow in Hollister, N.C.

''It's a celebration of all of our cultures,'' Old Elk said. ''I know pow wows have really evolved over a time. I think it's a great opportunity - it's like a vacation, to step outside of the real world. Where I live, it's 9 to 5, hustle and bustle. It's just a chance to step into our element, into our world, kick back and hang out with family and friends that I haven't seen in a long time.''

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For Old Elk, pow wows are also a chance to hear her favorite Northern drum groups - Northern Cree, War Scout and Black Lodge - as well as her favorite Southern drum, Thunder Hill. It is also a chance to see dancers that she admires such as Jodi Gillette and Tookie Brady.

Old Elk dances the Crow style of Women's Northern Traditional dance, with her regalia being a joint effort between her and her relatives. Because few women dance this style in the Eastern part of the country, ''I try to represent my people the best I possibly can,'' she said.

One way that she represents her people is getting other Native youth to dance and participate in the arena. When she is in her full regalia, she has realized that no one can refuse her request to come out and dance.

''A lot of times, I think the best opportunity is Round Dance, when they have social dances,'' she said. ''You have to go out and grab them. Usually, when you're wearing your outfit, it's easier to get a response from the audience. Then, you're dressed up and you're participating yourself. I think that's the best way to do it is to go out and grab them and say, 'Hey, can you dance with me?' You know how the saying goes: if you deny somebody, you have to pay them. A lot of people don't want to pay dancers or turn them down. That's usually what I do. I take a hands-on approach and grab somebody. I like to encourage young dancers to not be shy and feel the music.''

Ultimately, Old Elk said that dancing, for her, is the best way to represent her own self as well, and that there is nothing that can come close.

''It's kind of empowering,'' Old Elk said. ''I see my outfit as an individual itself. When I put it on, there's no other way to really represent myself than to be out there and dancing. It feels really, really good. It's like nothing that I've ever felt before.''