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Passing down the tradition of dance

Caspie and Donovan Abbey’s lives revolve around powwow. They dance, they
fundraise, they teach, they judge, and they travel. So naturally, their children are
following in their footsteps.
Currently residing in Mandaree, N.D. Caspie’s lineage stems from the Hidatsa
Crow Tribe in Montana and Donovan from the Coushatta Hidastsa and Mandan.
Both started dancing at very young ages. The couple has five children and two
foster children.
“I was born into dancing just as my children were,” said Caspie. “I didn’t have
much of a choice, it was just what my family did.”
Caspie remembers being hesitant and a bit shy when she was a child. It wasn’t
until she was ten years old, when her grandmother made her a dress,that she
first competed.
“I was pretty slow to warm up to competing at first, but pretty soon I was hooked,”
remembered Caspie.
Since then, Caspie has not only enjoyed dancing, but has excelled at it. This
year, she was the Head Woman Dancer for the 2017 Mandaree Celebration. She
was named Princess of the powwow back in 2002. People come from all over
North America to compete and to watch the dances from multiple tribes and
cultures in Mandaree.
Caspie dances in the Woman Crow Style. Her dances are solo and are danced
standing in one place. Her dress carries deep historical meaning and her
movements have been passed down for generations. She has incorporated the
dances of women that she looks up to and admires in her dance.
“The movements are very meaningful,” said Caspie. “Just the way you hold
yourself in a dance is a sign of personal respect and empowerment.”
Donovan dances in the northern traditional style. He started competing at six
years old along with all of his siblings. Now, he is the only one who still
competes. Donovan has been chosen as the Head Northern Judge for the

Gathering of Nations Powwow in New Mexico for 2018.
Passing down the tradition of dance
As Donovan teaches his children the dances that he competes with, he said that
he can’t help but teach them about their culture and their heritage.
“The northern traditional style tells stories about tracking, hunting, battles, and
even replicates the movement of the grass,” said Donovan. “When we teach the
kids these dances, they learn about what each of those things meant to our
ancestors and how they apply to our culture today.”
Caspie chimed in that the women’s dances have a completely different history.
As she teaches them to her daughter, Tessa, she is teaching Tessa who she is a
Native American woman.
“Women were not allowed to dance in the arena until the 1950’s or 60’s,”
explained Caspie. “That didn’t mean that they didn’t dance though.”
Caspie has taught her daughter that for decades, women would stand up where
they were sitting in the audience at powwows and dance. They would dance right
in one spot. Their movements were restricted in space but not in influence.
Caspie said that one of her dances is to the double beat, which was derived from
the Waltz.
“Tessa has learned that in a women’s dance, it is much more about how you hold
yourself, the respect that you show, and who’s dances you imitate,” Caspie said.
“Often, you can show tribute to a mentor or someone you admire though the
dance that you choose.”
These lessons are important for the Abbey children, it teaches them their place in
the world and in their culture. It gives them a higher perspective of their family,
Donovan explained. And Tessa has been a very successful dancer as she has
followed her parent’s guidance.
Discipline and success
A two time world champion at the Gathering of Nations Powwow and a six time
International Champion, Tessa has spent a great deal of time practicing and has
developed quite a bit of discipline in order to fit in powwows while still going to
“It is clear to our children that powwows are earned, not just given,” said Caspie.
“They have to keep up on their chores, maintain a decent GPA, and do many
things to earn the privilege of competing.”

Dancing has also taught the Donovan children financial responsibility. Tessa
wanted braces so badly, so her parents made her a deal. They would pay for
them outright if she paid them back with any winnings she made her
competitions. It did not take long for her to completely pay off her debt.
“I’ve been blown away by lessons that she has learned that we hadn’t expected.
She opened up a bank account and has learned financial skills. She has learned
time management, and she has learned how to hold herself, all from powwow.”
Caspie thinks that those who dance are also often kept out of trouble.
“It is like any extracurricular activity or sport,” said Caspie. “When you are busy,
you don’t have time to do drugs or be fascinated with alcohol. You have to live up
to a certain standard, and be respectful to your body and not poison it. All of that
is good for children.”
A family bond
During powwow season, the Abbeys travel almost every week. On any given day
they might be in California or Canada. So, when their two foster sons joined the
family, they also joined the powwow circuit.
“We have seen our foster sons really grow and thrive in the powwow
environment this summer,” said Donovan. “Our 6-year- old is getting more
confident and his personality is starting to come out. Our 9-month- old absolutely
loves watching the dancing. It has bonded us as a family.”
With so much driving time, Caspie and Donovan feel like they also get the time to
bond and teach their children on the road. They talk, they tell stories, and they
have become more connected on the road.
Donovan appreciates the chance that dance has given him to help his children
be grounded in who they are.
“I want them to be proud of who they are, and to know that they are not alone,”
Donovan explained. “If they can remember who they are, they will appreciate
their culture. Dancing helps them do that.”

Written by Betsy Ryan

Betsy Ryan

Betsy Ryan resides in Watford City and is a recent transplant to Western North Dakota. She is learning to navigate her new landscape along with her husband and their two boys. Betsy writes for the McKenzie County Farmer and also shares her experiences in North Dakota on her blog,

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