The large crowd of assembled guests, seated in the “big-house” according to rank, is hushed by the sudden slow throb of the taut skin drum. A lone dancer is before them. On his head a portrait mask represents and important ancestor — it is always kept turned in a sideways profile; over his shoulders is a long cape, embellished across the back with the main crest of the family giving the potlatch — the whale crest.
The Welcome Dance, to welcome the invited guests and signal the start of the formal proceedings of the potlatch, has begun.
The drum beat, slow and steady, is accompanied by singing. The dancer’s outstretched arms and uplifted hands spread wide the cape to fully reveal the design of the leaping whale. Always with his back to the guests, the dancer progresses sideways, a step with each beat of the drum. The masked head suddenly swivels to the opposite direction and the dancer retraces his steps, finally to reverse direction once again and return to the centre.
The magnificent Whale crest, in full view of the guests at all times, declares pride in the family lineage while reaffirming the identity of the family giving the potlatch.
Four times over the dance is performed. The potlatch has begun.