Sean Synder and Adrian Matthias Stevens are blazing a trail in traditional Native American culture: The couple has started performing a “sweetheart’s dance” on the same pow-wow circuit they met on eight years ago.
The sweetheart competition, where couples show off partnered routines in hopes of winning a prize, is a frequent element of many pow wows. (Cash prizes can top $10,000.)
It’s traditionally performed by heterosexual pairs, but Snyder and Stevens, who both identify as two-spirit, wanted to claim it as their own. After years of debating, they decided to debut their routine last October at the San Manuel Pow Wow competition in San Bernardino, California.
“Our parents danced, it’s something we’ve always known,” Stevens, 29, told People. “It’s been a part of our families’ lives, and it’s one of the things that brought us together. Not only competitively, but spiritually and physically.”
Pow wows are social gatherings held by many different Native American and First Nations communities—contemporary pow wows involve dancing competitions, singing, socializing, and other elements.
Stevens and Snyder, 25, have been met with some resistance: At the San Manuel event, they were ultimately disqualified for not being a male/female couple.
Still, they remain optimistic.
“We don’t just do this for ourselves, it’s for the youth that may still be finding their identity and what feels right and comfortable to them,” Stevens told FNX Native Television. “We’re happy. There’s so much love in this arena, and there’s so much love on the outside, that we’re going to do this no matter what anybody may think.”