The Sneak-Up Dance is an ancient storytelling dance having several origins, that became known as a Sneak Up Dance when it was performed in the Wild West Shows of the 1800s.
Evolution of the Sneak Up Dance
The Lakota Sneak-Up Song and Dance evolved into a type of veteran’s honoring song after WWI and WWII, and would be sung after a traditional veteran’s honoring song at pow-wows.
Today however, although sometimes still used in the traditional way, the original Lakota Sneak-Up Song, and other more modern sneak-up songs that have been composed, are mainly used as contest songs for Men’s Northern Traditional dance contests.
The Sneak Up Dance actually tells several stories
In one version, a warrior acts out a battle where the enemy spots him, so he has to begin the attack anew. In the end, he does a victory dance.
Another version involves a hunter tracking a deer. His prey spots him, and he has to try again.
A third version enacts a warrior in battle. He searches for a wounded friend, and upon finding him, he brings the friend to safety.
Only men perform the Sneak-Up Dance, as it was a way to teach young boys how to surprise prey or an enemy, or to help a fallen warrior in battle.
Parts of the Sneak Up Dance
The Sneak-Up Dance follows a definite pattern of drum rolls in the first half of the four renditions and a standard Omaha beat in the second half of each of the four renditions.
On the drum roll, the dancers shake their bells and make gestures of either following prey or seeking out the enemy. When the rolling drum beats start, in the beginning half of the song, they are symbolizing the spiritual power of the thunderstorm, the dancers rattle their bells to increase the sound of the thunder.
On the Omaha beats, they sneak up, advancing toward the center and stopping on the last beat of the song, then walking back to the perimeter.
Notice that when the drum beats fast, dancers lower themselves closer to the ground to hide, and then survey the area, checking for potential dangers.
The fourth rendition doesn’t end as the first three do, but continues with three or four straight Omaha renditions, so the song is actually sung six or seven times in all. The Sneak-Up Song doesn’t have a traditional song ending, but ends on the word manipulation instead.