Published on August 3, 2011 by Amy
Unlike some of the dances we’ve presented on other pages, the Eagle Dance is not specific to one certain group. It is performed by many Native American Indians as part of their ceremonies. However, the details of the dance will vary from tribe to tribe. It is most commonly performed in early spring, but can be performed at any other time of the year. Because of this, we did not know which month to feature this dance under. So we chose August, simply because that is also the time of the Crow Fair (the biggest powwow) where all tribes come together.
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But it is most commonly performed on the Jemez and Tesuque Reservations of New Mexico.
The eagle is considered a sacred and symbolic bird because of its ability to fly so high. Therefore, it is believed that it has the power to move between heaven and earth. The Native Americans have always regarded the eagle as having supernatural powers, especially to control rain and thunder. Because of this belief, many tribes such as the Iroquois, Comanche, Iowa and Midwestern Calumet have traditionally performed the Eagle Dance when divine intervention was needed for rain believing the eagle would carry up their requests to the gods.
The Eagle Dance portrays the life cycle of the eagle from birth to death. The dance shows how the eagle learns to walk, hunt and feed itself and it’s family. A chorus of male dancers (wearing feathered war bonnets) provide the drumming and singing accompaniment for the dance. Two central dancers (dressed to look like the male and female eagle) have yellow paint on their lower legs, white on their upper arms and dark blue bodies. Short white feathers are attached to their chests. These feathers are painted yellow. They also wear a wig-like cap made of white feathers with a yellow beak-like protrusion. Bands of eagle feathers also run the length of their arms. These two central dancers will make movements that imitate the eagle by turning, flapping and swaying.
It is believed that the Eagle Dance was once part of a larger ceremony that was performed by the ancients to bring rain at a time of year when crops were planted and so rain was essential.