Dance Tidbits: Dances of the Native American – Part 3

If you would like to know how the American Indian evolved and came to inhabit the Americas, it is believed that they may be the original, prehistoric people. This transition occurred over 12,000 years ago when people of Europe integrated with people of Asia. Over time there were hundreds of tribes each with their own unique traditions and languages. The Native American Indian is a diverse people and also our legacy. There are so many incredible abilities these people possess. We embrace their beautiful jewelry that never goes out of style. I almost never can walk by a piece of turquoise jewelry in a store, I don’t love. I actually own quite a few pieces, my favorite being turquoise rings. That is the work of the Native American Indian; they create, design and live off the land. True artists in every sense of the word. And how many people do you know who can say they are on American money, the Native American Indian can. I can’t help but share these last dances with you. They are the true testament of who these people are. The messages seem basic and simple but they hold the key to life and survival; all done in in rich, artistic tones.

Stomp Dance – The Stomp Dance is also a ceremonial dance. It has both religious and social meaning. The term “Stomp Dance” is an English term, which refers to the “shuffle and stomp” movements of the dance. This dance takes place at night and performed several times during the summer months to insure the community’s wellbeing. Performed by both men and women, these events may include some 30 or more performances, each sung by a different leader and may also include other dances such as the Duck Dance, Friendship Dance or the Bean Dance. A leader begins the dance by circling the sacred fire and is followed in single file by those who wish to participate. The leader leads the dancers counter-clockwise around the fire. Participants sing, shake leg rattles and dance in a stomping step. Men and women alternate positions behind the leader, organizing themselves by age and skill, with the youngest and least experienced dancers at the end of the line. Dancing starts well after dark and continues until dawn of the next day. Participants who are making a religious commitment will begin fasting after midnight and are obligated to stay awake the whole night. There is a “medicine” that is taken by participants made from roots and plants that have been ceremonially gathered and prepared by a healer. Dancing continues until the sun rises, and that is when the dance and the ceremony end.


Sun Dance – The Sun Dance is an annual dance, practiced primarily at the summer solstice. Preparations can begin up to a year before the ceremony. Many tribes have different versions of this dance, although there is one constant theme. The eagle serves as a central symbol in the dance, helping bring the body and spirit together in harmony. Supposedly this is a dance that is passed down from generation to generation. At the ceremony is the traditional drum, praying with the pipe, offerings, fasting and in some cases, the ceremonial piercing of skin. Although not all Sun Dance ceremonies include ritual piercings, the object of the Sun Dance is to offer personal sacrifice as a prayer for the benefit of one’s family and community. Once again, in the late 1800s, the United States government made an attempt to suppress the Sun Dance. Many tribes like the Cheyenne went underground and reemerged in the 20th century. In 1890, there were continued disruptions from army patrols and the dance was abandoned. It took many more years later, but finally, the policy of government suppression ended with the issuance of the 1934 circular Indian Religious Freedom and Indian Culture act. And since then, it is possible to find a Sun Dance being performed by a tribe throughout many tribal regions of the United States.

War Dance – Tribes practiced a War Dance on the evening before an attack to observe certain religious rites to ensure success. Warriors took part in a War Dance while contemplating retaliation. This dance stirred up emotions and filled the braves with a sense of purpose as they prepared for battle. Though the ceremonies varied from one tribe to another, there are common points among the tribes. Ceremonies may include singing, which could extend over an entire day and night, prayers, handling of sacred object or bundles and dancing. Often there would be a sweat lodge or other purification ceremony. Incense burned, faces might be painted and a pipe was frequently passed between the participants. The only musical instruments used in these ceremonies were rattles, drums and whistles.

My favorite element of the Native American Indian is the incredible, unique costumes, designed and worn for centuries and centuries. Anything old is still new when it comes to Native American costuming. It remains “in vogue” and continues to be elaborate, beautiful and intriguing. Dance regalia may include brightly colored feather bustles, headwear, beaded bodices, leggings, shawls and moccasins.

Clothes are also decorated with fringe, feathers, embroidery or ribbons worked into rich designs. Also worn are beaded cuffs, chokers, earrings, bracelets and eagle plumes. Fancy dancers are the most commonly seen in public exhibitions today. And the Fancy Dance has also become a competitive sport. American Indian dresses can be quite elaborate with sashes being worn by the dancers around their waist or draped around their neck reaching the ground. Creative and stunning with those bright, illustrious colors, every dance and ceremony is truly a work of art.

If you analyze any of these unique dances, you will find comprehensive lessons to live by, filled with tradition, intelligence and strong will. The Native American Indian is intuitively in touch with his surroundings and a higher spiritual calling that will always be a wonder to behold.

Thought Of The Week:

“Nothing attracts good fortune and success like a joyous, grateful heart” – Charles Burke


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Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website