Dance Titdbits: Dances of the Native American Indian – Part 2

Awhile back I did a blog on the American Indian. This is Part 2 on the Native American Indian.   I must reference how most Americans see the Native American Indians in movies, where the cowboys fight the Indians, and they are mostly the “bad guys.” Nothing could be further from the truth. These people are gentle warriors that live close to the earth. The Native American Indian cares a lot about tradition and life patterns that match not only the physical way to live but also the spiritual involvement of one’s soul. They encompass many ways of life through a keen, divine, inner wisdom and it shows in their dances. The Native American Indians are creative and colorful people when it comes to dance. Their costumes reflect their intensity with rich tones and ornate stylings; making them unique and fascinating to watch.

Hoop Dance – Is a creative dance that goes back for centuries and tells stories. The Hoop Dance is exactly the way it sounds. Anywhere from 1 to 40 hoops can be used to represent the movements of various animals and other storytelling elements. In its earliest form, this dance is believed to have been part of a healing ceremony designed to restore balance and harmony in the world. With no beginning or end, the hoop represents the never-ending circle of life. The hoops are made of reeds or wood and are used to create symbolic shapes, including butterflies, turtles, eagles, flowers and snakes. There are quite a few tales of the origination of the Hoop Dance. Each story is more interesting than the next. Some say the Creator gave a series of wooden hoops and the dance to a dying man who wanted to leave a gift behind. Other stories say that the hoops were developed by cliff-dwellers for children to

learn dexterity. And still another tale says there was an unearthly spirit that was born to live

amongst the people. The boy did not show any interest in typical boys activities. He preferred to be alone and watch animals. This displeased his father and he disowned him. The boy could not stop watching animals because he was fascinated with their movements. Before too long, he was spinning like an eagle in flight or hopping through the grass like a rabbit and thus, created the Hoop Dance. He taught the other Indians about the ways of the animals and the Hoop Dance became so popular, that every village wanted to learn the dance. Today, the Hoop Dance remains popular. It is usually performed by a solo dancer who begins with a single hoop, evoking the circle of life. Additional hoops are added representing other life elements, including humans, animals, wind, water and seasons. The Hoop Dance has very rapid moves in which the hoops are made to interlock and extend from the body forming appendages such as wings and tails. It has also become a highly competitive event, with the first World Hoop Dance Competition held at the New Mexico State Fair in 1991. Currently, the most popular competition is held annually at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

Hopi Snake Dance – Hopi Indians are famous for their ritual Snake Dance. The dance is held annually in late August when the performers dance with live snakes in their mouths. The dance is thought to have originated as a water ceremony because snakes were the traditional guardians of springs. Today, it is more of a rain ceremony to honor Hopi ancestors. The Hopis look at snakes as their “brothers” and rely on them to carry their prayers for rain to the gods and spirits of their ancestors.  To prepare for a Snake Dance it requires two weeks of ritual preparation, during which time the snakes are gathered and watched over by children until time for the dance. On the last day of the 16-day celebration, the dance is performed. Most of the snakes are rattlesnakes. Before the dance begins the participants take an emetic, which is a sedative herb. It is not an anti-venom. As they dance with the snakes in their mouths, there is an Antelope Priest in attendance, who helps with the dance. Sometimes the Priest strokes the snakes with a feather and the dance can include swaying, rattles, a guttural chant and circling of the plaza with snakes. After the dance, the snakes are released in the four directions to carry the prayers of the dancers. Though the dance was once open to the public, it is now open to only tribal members due to illegal photography and a lack of respect for the traditions and ceremonial practices of the Hopi Indian.

Rain Dance – This ceremonial dance is performed by numerous agricultural people, especially in the southwest; where summers can be extremely dry. The ceremony is performed to ask the spirit or gods to send rain for the tribes’ crops. (I think we need this dance performed in California. El Nino is just not doing its thing). Usually this dance is done during the spring planting season and before crops are harvested. However, in times of drought, the Rain Dance is definitely performed at that time as well. One thing that stands out about the Rain Dance is that both men and women participate in the ceremony. The dance does vary from tribe to tribe complete with its own unique rituals and costumes. You may see large headdresses or masks worn. Accessories can include paint on the body, beads, animal skins, horse and goat hair, feathers, embroidered aprons, and jewelry made of leather, silver and turquoise. Feathers and the color blue are often found in dress and accessories, symbolizing the wind and rain. It’s interesting to note, these special clothes and accessories worn during the Rain Dance, are not worn at other times of the year. They are stored away and worn only for ceremonies. Dance steps involve moving in a zigzag pattern as opposed to other ceremonial dances that involve standing in a circle. As often occurs in Native American’s history, the United States government tried to ban certain segments of the Rain Dance ceremony. But still to this day, many tribes continue to perform this dance.

There are still other meaningful, artistic dances yet to share with you.  Please join me when I continue with the final blog in this three part series of the dances of the Native American Indian.

Thought Of The Week:

“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be”   –  Marianne Williamson


Recent Posts

See All


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