Published on January 28, 2012 by Casey
Native American traditional dances remain an important part of many tribes’ cultures, both in a traditional and ceremonial sense. Below you will find basic information about the types of native American dance still practiced today, as well as a brief history of this dance form’s roots.
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There is no way to really name which tribe performed the very first native American dance. Many of these dances are so ancient, there is no written documentation of them, let alone photographs or credit due to a formal choreographer. Like most things tribal, the dances of the Indians were passed down through generations, rich in tradition and quite lacking in formal records. However, we do know that many Indian tribes did in fact dance for various reasons. One purpose for such festive dancing was to signify both joyous and difficult times in the life of a tribe. There was a celebratory dance for weddings and religious observances, and also more somber dances for funerals and war time. The primitive people groups of early American Indian sects expressed themselves rhythmically in such a variety of ways that one can safely say that if something mattered to the tribe, then there was a dance to go along with it.
Today, some of these timeless dances are performed at regional powwows and historical events that celebrate the history and beauty of various tribes still living in the United States today. Below are just a few you will find throughout the nation.
From the Mississippi to the Great Lakes, Native American traditional dances focused on animals, as the Northeast Indians were a hunting society. The dance pattern most often used includes a counterclockwise circle of large groups of dancers, executed with a running/jogging step and stops. Unlike many tribes who exclude mixed gender dancing, the hunting dances of the Northeast Indians were open to men, women and children, and the age and sex most prominently featured as a key performer varied upon the time of year and duties of those within the tribe.
Those tribes located in the Great Plains region of the United States danced to celebrate a tribal boy’s passage into manhood, and also to worship the summer solstice. Tribes of this area held a special sun dance ceremony, with dancing accompanied on a large drum with a variety of special songs being sung as they pay homage to the sun through their movement. They dance repetitively in place, facing the sun until they reach exhaustion. While most Great Plains tribes are a bit more health-conscious today in the way they perform in festivals and cultural rituals, they still manage to preserve the intensity and passion found within the confines of their sun worship dance.
To see such a demonstration, check out North Dakota’s Northern Great Plains Culture Fest, which involves arts and entertainment with an authentic American Indian experience.
Pueblo Indians, located in California and other surrounding regions of the U.S., are known for their traditional corn dances, where they are performed often during the spring and summer. With banners and singing, up to 200 dancers can be seen during this elaborate dance style, with men in pairs, followed by pairs of women. Crossovers and weaving motions are used in the dance to form intricate shapes and formations not found elsewhere. In New Mexico, you will find very traditional dances, many being performed for the tribe’s benefit, rather than for public viewing. Before attending a dance, it is appropriate to learn proper etiquette so you can respect the Pueblo’s native American traditional dance motivations.
When it comes to participating in a culture as old and respected as that of the native Americans, it’s important to receive as much education as you can. Whether you plan on taking dance lessons in one of their tribal styles, or attending a pow wow or festival, learn what is going on prior to attending. A website such as Pow Wows.com is a great place to start your growth of knowledge in all things related to native American tradition.