Native American Dance

Native American Dancers by George Catlin

Native American Dancers

Native American Dance
Facts and history about the life and lifestyles of Native American Indians. There were many hundreds of Native American Dances that were performed by all the different tribes across the continent of North America. Dancing was always accompanied by music including the beat of drums, rattles, whistles and the chanting of singers. Dances were performed for a variety of reasons to mediate with spirits forming part of great religious ceremonies and rituals They included war dances, victory dances, fertility dances, homecoming dances, rain dances and dances that reflected creation stories and mythical legends.

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Native American Dance - Names of Famous Dances
The names of the most famous dances performed by Native Americans included the War Dance, Buffalo dance, Deer dance, Pipe dance, Green Corn Ceremony, Hoop Dance, Scalp Dance, Rainmaking or Sun Dance, Turkey dance, Snake Dance, Ghost dance and the Dog dance. These dances and the ceremonies, rituals and music that accompanied them held a very important place in the culture and religion of Native American Indians. Specific dances are described in this article together with a facts sheet providing additional, interesting information about the steps, regalia and history about famous Native American dances.

  

Native American Dancers and Regalia
Native American dancers prepared for dances with great care. The hair was carefully combed and arranged and face and body paint was frequently applied. Special, symbolic dance costumes were frequently worn. In the magical buffalo dances the skins of buffalo, with the head, skin, and horns attached, were worn to mimic the animal. Masks were worn Kachina dancers who acted as mediators with the Kachina spirits. The dress, regalia and decorations all had sacred and specific meanings.

The Hidatsa Dog Dance
The Hidatsa Dog Dance is depicted in the painting by Karl Bodmer. The name of the Hidatsa dancer is Pehriska-Ruhpa meaning "Two Ravens", a principal warrior and leader of the Hidatsa Dog Society. A dog dancer was one of the bravest warriors of the tribe and would to fight to the death to protect his people. The Dog Dance imitated battle manoeuvres and was performed to bring success in battles. The Dog dancer's striking blue headdress is made of wild turkey and magpie feathers. He holds a war whistle and a Dog society emblem of a rattle made of deer hooves or deer claws attached to a beaded stick. In his other hand he holds a bow and arrow.

 

The Ghost Dance
The Ghost Dance was part of a mystical ceremony and ritual that was initiated by two Paiute prophets called Wodziwob and Wovoka to re-establish the Native Indian culture and to bring an end to the westward expansion of whites and a return of the land to the Native American Indians. The ceremonies lasted for five successive days and Ghost dancers underwent rituals that resulted in hypnotic trances. The Ghost Dancers wore special shirts which the Native Americans believed could not be pierced by the bullets of enemy soldiers and each dancer wore a symbolic Crow feather in his hair. . The movement spread to many other tribes and was a central feature among the Sioux tribe just prior to the massacre of Wounded Knee and the end of the Sioux Wars (1854 - 1891). For additional facts and information refer to the legend and story of Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull.

The Scalp Dance
Women also played important roles in ceremonies such as the Scalp Dance which were performed by women, such as those of the Spokane tribe, as a public act of revenge. A woman who wanted revenge would whirl around a fire flailing the scalp of the enemy and kicking in revenge. She was attended by other women who danced and chanted, as did the rest of the tribe, to the beat of drums.

Native American Life - Native American Dance
The life, history and lifestyle of Native American Indians is a varied and fascinating subject. The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Native American Dance. Native American Ceremonies and rituals included the War Dance, Kachina dances, the Buffalo dance, the Green Corn Dance, the Scalp Dance, Rain Dances, the Sun Dance, the Snake Dance, the Dog Dance and the Ghost dance.

Native American Dance Fact Sheet for kids

  • Native American Dance Fact 1: Various ceremonies and festivals of the Hopi tribe featured the dances, costumes and masks of the Kachinas in the Soyal Winter Solstice Ceremony and the Great Feast of the Winter Solstice. These Kachina dances included the Snake Dance in which snakes become living Prayer sticks and the Powamu (the Bean Dance) to promote fertility of the fields. The Niman, or the Going Home Dance was performed during the Summer Solstice

  • Native American Dance Fact 2: Native American tribes celebrated the winter solstice with rituals such as the Bear and the Feather Dances and the Navajo Night Chant

  • Native American Dance Fact 3: Great Plains tribes, such as the Arapaho, Cheyenne and Crees,  also performed important ceremonies at the summer solstice including the infamous Sun Dance ritual. During the ceremony the participants pursued their Vision Quest in which self-torture was undertaken as a penance or to induce a vision or trance state. During the ceremony group dances were performed in honor of the sun at the summer solstice.

  • Native American Dance Fact 4: Rituals that required a heightened trance state were also produced in the Salish Spirit Dance

  • Native American Dance Fact 5: Great Basin Tribes including the Washoe tribe performed important ceremonies and dances including the Round Dance and the Pine Nut dance which were associated with the harvest of pinyon (pine nuts) in supplication for increased food supply and to bring rain.

  • Native American Dance Fact 6: The most spectacular public dances of the Pueblos are the corn dances, or tablita dances

  • Native American Dance Fact 7: The tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy performed many ceremonies and rituals which included longhouse dances, feather dances, False Face dances and war dances (wasaa'se'). Iroquois women symbolized actual fertility representing the Three Sisters, the Life-Giving spirits of corn, beans, and squash

  • Native American Dance Fact 8: Stances of dancers varied. Women tending to take a more erect stance than men and performed in a more restrained fashion. Men tended to use foot lifts and solid stamp or stomping steps

  • Native American Dance Fact 9: Dances were performed in different patterns such as circling dances, round dances and Serpentine line dances.

  • Native American Dance Fact 10: Certain Medicine Men, called Skinwalkers, performed wild dances involving startling jumps and leaps dressed in the skin of a grizzly bear with the head of the bear serving as a mask

 

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