Published on October 21, 2013 by Amy
One of the most beautiful things about Native American culture is the rich forms of art this group has brought to America. Among forms of art such as painting, sculpting and storytelling, the truly unique quality of Native American dance makes it the most awe-inspiring and thought-provoking of them all. To the untrained eye, these Native American dances may look like nothing more than interesting movements designed to match the rhythm of a song. On the contrary, dances in this culture each have a deeper purpose and significance that exemplifies how powerful this medium can be in expressing an idea.
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Practiced by the Chickasaw tribe, the traditional stomp dance begins with an announcement by one of the ground leaders, indicating that he will be leading the song. He then heads toward the ceremonial fire with a shell shaker, or rattle, in hand, leading the rest of the people behind him. Women and men traditionally alternate in this line, with the women wearing rattles around their ankles and maintaining the rhythm of the song. Tribe members walk clockwise around the fire. The lead singer then calls out to the Creator, with the men responding as if the Creator is speaking through them. Legend says that whatever the lead singer requests from the Creator during this ceremony will be brought to fruition within four days. These types of performances can be seen at The Chickasaw Cultural Center, in Sulphur, Okla.
The ghost dance is performed to symbolize the regeneration of Earth and the spiritual reward of the Earth’s caretakers into a carefree, exalted state of bliss. Unlike other forms of Native American dance, the ghost dance is fairly unstructured, asking only that the participants move in a manner to awaken the spirits of their deceased ancestors and communicate with them. This gives the dancers closure and courage despite the death of these loved ones. Unfortunately, the ghost dance has a tragic association, since it was the very one Indians were performing when American soldiers gunned them down at the Battle of Wounded Knee.
The sun dance ceremony symbolizes the eternal continuity of life. This ceremony was practiced by several different tribes and was often considered one of the most important religious ceremonies of Plains Indians in the 19th century. Sun dances were held every year during the summer solstice and lasted four to eight days – beginning and ending at sunset. This not only symbolized the infinite cycle of life, but also its connection to and dependency on nature.
One of the oldest tribal dances known today is the Native American grass dance, which mimics the quiet swaying movements of grass when the wind blows. This movement is emphasized with headdresses, fringes and ribbons on the dancers’ costumes. Another form of the grass dance involves dancing intentionally to flatten the grass and prepare the ground for a tribal ceremony. This grass-flattening technique also symbolizes victory over the enemy.
Native Americans have used dance as a way to connect with each other and honor longstanding traditions. Dance is an important part of socialization, as well as preservation of fascinating and distinct cultures.