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When the drumming starts and the dancers take the floor, the swirl of motion, color and sound will command your full attention. Follow the call of the drums to Indian Summer Festival's Winter Powwow, Saturday and Sunday March 2-3 at Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis.
A powwow is a time for Native American families to reunite and celebrate a cherished rite: dancing. From across the country, dancers of all ages from different tribes come to the powwow to perform and compete to the accompaniment of ancient rhythms and chants. Some dances are performed by individuals, others are done in groups. There are dances with traditional steps mimicking a particular animal, like the Eagle Dance, or even a plant, like the Grass Dance. "Fancy dancers" follow their own spirits in free-form performances. Jingle dancers take small steps but make a big sound, thanks to the many "jingles" attached to their brightly colored costumes.
At the powwow you'll see children that have only recently learned how to walk working on their dance steps next to elderly practitioners of the art, who step into another world when the drumming begins.
It's certain you'll work up an appetite after watching the dancers in action. At the powwow you can sample Native American foods, including crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside fry bread, savory wild rice dishes and maple sugar sweets. (Dieters be forewarned: One slice of fry bread, and it's back to carrot sticks for the rest of the week.)
Native crafts will be on sale, too. Look for leatherwork, jewelry, and beaded belts and hair ornaments. Most of the trappings to outfit a dancer's costume are sold at powwows, from cloth, ribbon and feathers to beads and jingles – which are made from the thin metal tops of snuff cans. The flat metal disc is rolled into a cone shape and stitched to the dress. Sew on a couple hundred jingles and you'll be ready to dance!
Wisconsin State Fair Park is at 84th & Greenfield Avenue, West Allis. The Winter Powwow is open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on Saturday, March 2 and 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 3. Call (414) 774-7119 for Indian Summer Festivals information, 1-800-884-FAIR for admissions and events at State Fair Park.
When the powwow is over...
...plan a side trip to see some of the natural splendor that inspires the dancers. Even in urban Milwaukee, you won't have far to go. Bound by Silver Spring Drive and Sherman Boulevard, Havenwoods State Forest Preserve stretches across 237 acres on the city's north side. Havenwoods is an oasis of quiet beauty for city residents and visitors alike – and a piece of land with a fascinating history. If soil could speak, what a story it would tell here! Entrance at 6141 N. Hopkins one block west of Sherman Boulevard on Douglas Avenue, Milwaukee. Open 6 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily. (414) 527-0232.
North of suburban Fox Point, the Schlitz Audubon Center overlooks 225 acres of Lake Michigan habitat. Bring your binoculars: The bluffs and meadows rimmed by a shoreline sky attract wildlife and birds, birds, birds. The center also has a well-stocked natural history bookstore. 1111 Brown Deer Road, Milwaukee. Open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sundays. (414) 352-2880.
At the Wehr Nature Center just southwest of the city, 200 acres of prairie, oak savanna and woodlands are yours to explore. Start at the new visitor's center and follow the trail to 20-acre Mallard Lake, where early migrating birds may be stopping for a rest. The center, located at 9701 W. College Avenue in Franklin, is open from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. (414) 425-8550.