Underscore: “Pow-Wow” is now “Assembly”

So somehow, even though I was following this issue very closely, I missed that Nancy Stark Smith renamed the part of the Underscore called “Pow-Wow” to “Assembly” back in December of 2016.

It has officially been changed. Whew!

Some background for those of you who might not be up on all of this. The Underscore is a structure for contact improvisation and other movement improvisation that Nancy Stark Smith created in 1990. (Sheesh, it’s 17 years old!) It’s practiced all over the world. More on all this on Nancy’s Web site.

It has a number of different attributes or phases in it that are named. One early phase in the Underscore involves gathering people together for logistics and discussion, an “opening circle” if you will. Until last December, this phase was called “Pow-Wow.” But:

News Flash: As of December 2016, I have renamed the phase formerly called “Pow-Wow,” which is a focused gathering of the Underscore players—a coming together to meet, check in, sow seeds for practice in the early part of the score. It is now called Assembly.


Why the change? Well, I don’t want to speak too much for Nancy; while we’ve exchanged e-mails on the subject, I don’t exactly have an “official statement” from her. But I think I can say that she felt like using the original name of “Pow-Wow” was an instance of cultural appropriation from Native Americans. Retiring Pow-Wow addresses that cultural appropriation.

My concerns with the word “Pow-Wow” were twofold: (1) that it’s a Native American term, and (2) that it refers specifically to gatherings of Native Americans. And sadly, in the contact improvisation community, Underscores almost never involve a gathering of Native Americans. Thus it’s not just the use of the term by non-Native Americans, but the inaccuracy in its use that was problematic.

Why am I writing about this only now? Despite some past correspondence with Nancy on the subject, I didn’t realize that Nancy had made the official announcement on her Web site until I asked her about it yesterday. But now it’s official! (And whoops, has been official for four months already.)

I feel much better now that that’s been changed. Now let’s get back to working on diversity…

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