Rules for the pow wow judges


Last Updated: 5 years

The selection of the pow wow judges is very important to ensure a successful pow wow. At most pow wows the head judges are selected by the Pow Wow Committee; they may also recommend singing and dancing judges.

The Head Judges must have knowledge of the contest dances and the songs that will be sung. The head judges choose other judges (usually five) from the spectators, dancers or singers participating in the pow wow.

Each judge, at some time in his/her life, must have been a singer or dancer and be knowledgeable about the rules and regulations of the contest. The Head Dancing Judge, or Arena Director, organizes the Grand Entry, chooses different judges for each contest session and makes the final decision on disputes that may arise over judging or scoring.

The Head Singing Judge is responsible for selecting different judges for each contest session and settling disputes over scoring.

As each dancer takes his/her turn in the arena, the judges may look for the following criteria when scoring contestants:

    • Participation in the Grand Entry, for which they are given additional points.
    • Intricacy of the dancer’s footwork and style.
    • The dancer’s ability to keep time with the drum. (If the dancer fails to stop on the last drum beat, he/she will be disqualified.)
    • The quality of the dancer’s outfit (note that the word ‘costume’ is not used, but regalia is an acceptable alternate term for the dancer’s outfit) and how the dancer presents him/herself.
    • The judge will look to see if a dancer drops or loses part of his/her outfit, for which he/she will be disqualified. The dancer will also lose points if he/she is unprepared and not fully dressed for the contest.

The judges are very important because they are the ones who select the winners in the different contests. If possible, the judges should be selected ahead of time, so they can be told what is expected of them.

The selection of judges and the score keeping methods may vary from pow wow to pow wow. The following are two methods which have been used in the judging process:

Chief White Eagle and his wife, Pawnee, in their booklet titled, My Pow Wow Manual (date unknown), use the following criteria when judging and scoring:

Here are some suggestions for picking judges:

  1. Judges should be Indians who know the different dances and who can understand the rules for judging.
  2. Judges should not be related by family or marriage to any of the contestants. The judge should disqualify him/herself so the dancer can have a chance to compete.
  3. My suggestion for judging for speed and accuracy is simple. Have each judge mark his/her card first, second and third. Give three (3) points for first, two (2) points for second, and one (1) point for third.
  4. Each judge should sign or initial the card. Do this as soon as possible and give the card to the Head Judge. An odd number of judges is best to lessen the chance of ties.
  5. These points should be judged for sure, as well as other points that may be awarded by the organization sponsoring the pow wow.
    1. The dance outfit must be authentic and complete—headdress, apron, moccasins, and bells or rattles. In some cases bells will not be worn, according to the custom of the dancer’s tribe.
    2. Any dancer losing part of his/her outfit will be automatically disqualified.
    3. Any missed step in starting, dancing and stopping. In most places when the drum stops the dancer must have both feet on the ground or they are disqualified; however, the local tribe or pow wow committee will set the rules for the judges.
  6. Judges do not talk to or ask questions from another judge, and do not talk to or with any dancer.

The United Tribes Education and Technical Center Pow Wow in Bismarck, North Dakota (WOW, September 1980), uses a different method for scoring and judging. Their system is as follows:

The Pow Wow committee uses a six-point spread system that makes a tie score more difficult. If the categories being judged have four winners (Men’s Fancy, Men’s Traditional, Women’s Fancy and Women’s Traditional) five judges are used per session. The points used are: 21, 15, 9, and 3. The other categories have five place winners and thus have six judges. Points used are 27, 21, 9 and 3.

The dancers receive points according to: (1) timing with the drum, (2) outfit, (3) sportsmanship, and (4) both feet must be on the ground upon completion of the song and the last beat of the drum.

After judges pick the winners of that session, they record their numbers on their score sheets according to their places. The Head Dancing Judge will collect the score sheets and will hand them to the scorekeeper. The scorekeeper transfers the scores into the official scorekeeping book.

Any dancer, singing group or spectator is permitted to see the score book after the completion of the dancing and singing contests (Sunday night). During the dancing and singing contest competitions no one is allowed to see the score book (no judges or officials). If a dancer or singing group questions the final scores they received, they may ask to see a copy of the judges’ original score sheets.

The spectators may want to familiarize themselves with the scoring and judging system being used at the pow wow which they are viewing. This may make the events more enjoyable and exciting to watch.