'Powwow Sweat' Promotes Fitness Through Traditional Dance : Shots - Health News Native Americans are 60 percent more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic whites. The Coeur D'Alene Tribe in Idaho is using traditional dance to get fit and lose weight. They call it "Powwow Sweat."
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'Powwow Sweat' Promotes Fitness Through Traditional Dance

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'Powwow Sweat' Promotes Fitness Through Traditional Dance

'Powwow Sweat' Promotes Fitness Through Traditional Dance

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A tribe in northern Idaho is incorporating its culture into its fitness programs. It's an effort to tackle high rates of heart disease and obesity. The program is called Powwow Sweat. Northwest News Network's Emily Schwing reports.

EMILY SCHWING, BYLINE: The Coeur D'Alene Tribe is known for two things, its hospitality and its powwow. The cultural celebration is one of the largest native gatherings in the nation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Powwow Sweat.

SCHWING: So the tribe borrowed from that tradition and created an exercise program based on powwow dancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Powwow Sweat.

SCHWING: The tribe has released a workout DVD. The series includes a warmup and breaks down moves for six dances typical at powwows, including the Mens's Fancy Dance.

LOVINA LOUIE: Four basic steps and then into the hip move. One, two, three, four, hip.

SCHWING: The hip move involves lifting your knee up...

LOUIE: Hip.

SCHWING: ...And then circling it out...

LOUIE: Hip.

SCHWING: ...To the side, all while bouncing to the drum beat.

LOUIE: Punch, punch, punch...

SCHWING: The tribe also hosts weekly classes at the Coeur D'Alene wellness center.

LOUIE: (Vocalizing).

SCHWING: Several times a week, people gather here on the second floor to dance along to the DVD together. Ryan Ortivez doesn't have a television at home.

RYAN ORTIVEZ: I lost 13 and a half pounds.

SCHWING: You lost 13 and a half pounds doing Powwow Sweat?

ORTIVEZ: Yes. I'm aiming to lose 40 pounds by the end of the year.

SCHWING: Ortivez quit smoking this year. He also gave up junk food and soft drinks.

LOUIE: You guys ready?

SCHWING: Wellness center director LoVina Louie keeps everyone moving through the various dances. Sometimes she pauses the DVD to workshop the most complicated moves.

LOUIE: We're going to jingle.

SCHWING: The Jingle Dress dance involves a sort of box step.

LOUIE: We're going to go up, and then we're going to go a box. So we're going to go one, two, one, two, one, two, stop. That's the box.

SCHWING: She says it's harder than it looks.

LOUIE: If you don't do it regularly, your calves will hurt. Like, you're just out of breath because you're just constantly bouncing. It's almost like jump roping for 25 minutes straight.

TERRY O'TOOLE: We know, for example, that American Indians and Alaska Natives are 60 percent more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic whites. And so they have real health challenges in their communities.

SCHWING: Dr. Terry O'Toole is with the CDC's Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity division. Since 1999, the agency has funded requests for community-based health projects. O'Toole's office granted the Coeur D'Alene tribe $2 million to develop Powwow Sweat. It also supports a community garden here, an effort to promote indigenous foods and a project that stocks the reservation's gas station market with healthy food options.

O'TOOLE: Combating obesity requires more than just one initiative or one program. In fact, it takes a variety of what we call population-based strategies.

SCHWING: The goal, O'Toole's says, is to achieve community-wide results. But according to the Coeur D'Alene Tribe's wellness center director LoVina Louie, that goal isn't easy on a reservation because mainstream fitness and nutrition programs don't meet the needs of tribal members.

LOUIE: Most programming is only physical, or it's only nutrition. It's in these compartments, whereas we're more holistic.

SCHWING: It's that combination of native tradition and exercise that keeps tribal member Ryan Ortivez and his neighbors coming to class each week to watch the DVD and dance alongside each other.

ORTIVEZ: Far more attractive than doing jogging or the bicycle because it also relates to my culture and my people.

SCHWING: In addition to losing weight and getting healthy, Ortivez wants to be in good enough shape to dance in the tribe's powwow this summer. If he does, it'll be his first time. For NPR News, I'm Emily Schwing on the Coeur D'Alene Reservation.

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