Native American Dances
Native American dances are a rich and diverse art form that reflects the history, culture and spirituality of indigenous American Indians. It includes traditional dances that connect dancers with their ancestors and events in their natural world. It also also includes social dances that foster community bonds and celebrate common life events.
Native American dances can be divided into several regional types based on each tribe’s geographic, environmental, and cultural influences. Regional dance styles include:
Inuit (Eskimo) Dances: This style is performed by the Arctic peoples of Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Siberia. Inuit dances consist of shamanic performances, masked animals, and communal festivals connected with the whale hunt and other hunting activities.
The Eskimo dances consist of rhythmic movements of the entire body, often accompanied by chants and a large single-headed drum known as an Eskimo drum.
Northeast and Southeast Indians: This style is used by tribes living in the area from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes region, and along the St. Lawrence River.
Northeast and Southeast Indian Dances include Dream interpretations, healing dances, dances associated with planting seasons, war reinactments, and animalistic dancing.
Dances are usually done by large groups rotating clockwise, to the accompaniment of a large two[sided drum and singers. Songs usually reflect tonal sounds rather than distinguishable words.
Plains Indian Dances: This style is performed by nomadic tribes living in the North American grasslands in the north central states. Plains Indian dances are famous for war and hunting dances such as scalp dances, victory dances and buffalo dances portraying the buffalo hunt.
They also includes the Sun Dance, a sacred ritual of sacrifice and renewal that involves fasting, body piercing and dancing around a central sacred pole in the hot sun without water. Dancers often enter a hallucinatory state where they might receive a vison of something sacred or a life direction.
These dances include elaborate outfits, feathered headdresses, bells and rattles, and war paint.
Southwest Dances: This style is used by tribes living in the desert regions of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and northern Mexico. Influenced by Pueblo culture and religion, Southwest Indian dances are based on a complex ritual system aligned with the seasons and agricultural cycles.
This includes kachina dancers, with masks representing ancestral spirits or forces of nature. Southwestern snake dances include handling live rattlesnakes used to invoke rain and fertility.
Northwest Coast Indian Dances: This style includes tribes living along the Pacific coast from Alaska to northern California. Northwest Coast dances are characterized by potlatches (an elaborate feast involving gift-giving, social status and tribal participation) that last several days.
Northwest Coast dances also include totem dances, with dancers wearing masks and clothing embroidered with the animal symbols of their family or clan.
Native American dance is a vibrant and dynamic art form that is constantly evolving and adapting to changing times and circumstances. Many Native American tribes have preserved their traditional dances and also adopted other dances from other cultures or contemporary styles.
- Pow Wow Dances
- Pow Wow Etiquette
- Pow Wow Rules
- Pow Wow Terminology
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People begin gathering as the last rays of sunlight move their way up the ancient adobe structures. These aren’t just tribal members. We’re talking people from town, all over the region, even some from foreign countries.
The bonfires around the village are lit. As darkness begins to fall, the Vespers Mass in the San Geronimo Church is concluded and the Christmas Eve procession begins.
The jingle of bells hung from clothing and the rhythmic beats and chanting from the Kenai-based Midnight Sun drum group announced the arrival of about 20 dancers who moved toward the center of David Salmon Tribal Hall Saturday afternoon.
The history of the modern pow wow is always evolving. Competitive singing and dancing for prize money is a recent change in the traditional pow wow.
Prize money is awarded to top point-getters at the culmination of the event for both dancing and singing/drumming competitions.