Culture, health combine as traditional dancer leads Powwow Fit in Winnipeg
Free, outdoor powwow fitness classes run three times a week throughout June
With the powerful sounds of powwow music blasting from her portable speaker, traditional dancer Shanley Spence led a group of women through a fitness class that is part culture and tradition and part health and wellness.
"I wanted to do it because I felt a lot of calls to action in the community in terms of bringing women together," said Spence on Wednesday, just before her second-ever Women's Empowerment Powwow Fit class started at Assiniboine Park.
"And I thought, 'What better way to bring women together in the heart of health, wellness, dance and culture?'"
Spence's first class was on Monday, after months of toying with the idea of leading a session.
"Powwow dancing is a sport in itself," she said. "It takes a lot of stamina and a lot of endurance to keep going during those songs, because powwow music can go on for 10 minutes, 20 minutes."
Her classes run one hour, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in June. The first two sessions were at Assiniboine Park, but starting Friday she'll be running them in St. John's Park on Main Street.
"It felt very welcoming to women, and I would like to just be exposed to the possibility of fitness and powwow as a culturally relatable means to reach out to kids or women or whatever the case," said Joan Suzuki, who attended both the Monday and Wednesday classes.
Suzuki, who isn't Indigenous, said she was impressed by Spence's work in the classes and liked the idea of combining traditional dance with contemporary life, including the music Spence chose, which focuses on Indigenous artists like A Tribe Called Red, DJ Shub and Boogey The Beat.
"It's a lot of hopping," she said, laughing. "Lot of jumping."
The classes are supported in part by a grant Spence got from the City of Winnipeg, she said. For now, she's only scheduled them for the month of June, but she's heard interest from participants in continuing them for longer.
She said it's important to her to hold the classes outside.
"That's how we danced traditionally," she said.
"We didn't have fancy institutions, fancy buildings, fancy dance studios. We danced right on Mother Earth herself to have that grounding with her and to connect with the land, and to just feel that connection with our body, mind and spirit."
The class is open to all women-identifying people, of any skill level, Spence said. The youngest participant she's had so far was 12, and the oldest was in her 50s.
"That's definitely meaningful, because we need the youth to start getting involved," Spence said.
"And it's important for them to see groups of inspiring women and inspiring people in general coming together for a really good cause in terms of empowerment, health and wellness."
With files from Wendy Jane Parker