Forum: Folk / Native American Dance

Native American dance, What is it?
By PlumeriaPremium member
On Wed Jan 18, 2006 02:26 PM

There's Native American dancers that dance in the same building I do. I have always been wondering what it really is. So far, I think it sounds so cool. Anyways, could someone please tell me what it is?

11 Replies to Native American dance, What is it?

re: Native American dance, What is it?
By Cadbury_Eatermember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Wed Jan 18, 2006 11:17 PM
I don't know either but I would really appreciate it if someone could explain it to me. Hopefully someone will inform us.
re: Native American dance, What is it?
By Energy_Dancermember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Jan 19, 2006 10:14 AM

Nope.... I dont know either!
re: Native American dance, What is it? (karma: 4)
By flamenco_chick
On Fri Jan 20, 2006 07:53 PM
Native American dance is a dance having to do with the Native American, United Nations, or Native cultures. They have lovely intricate costumes, and each dance represents something. Often, these dances are to honour the harvest and their Gods.

Here's some links to examples:] . . . . . . . . .

Here's a picture of two boys dancing. Gorgous costumes!
Image hotlink - ''

Hope that helps!
re: Native American dance, What is it?
By Cadbury_Eatermember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Fri Jan 20, 2006 11:53 PM
Thanks alot for explaining it to us. Karma for you!
re: Native American dance, What is it? (karma: 7)
By JwshIrshdancer
On Sat Jan 21, 2006 06:09 PM
Native American Dancing is amazing. I grew up 20 minutes south of the Oneida Reservation, near Green Bay, Wisconsin and have gone to pow-wows on and off since I was 12. I am not Native myself, but did major in American Indian Studies (as the program is called, in college and learned tons.

When I was a senior in high school, I took an anthropology course and we actually beaded our own moccasins that can be worn to dance in. It was an extremely painstaking process, and I can't imagine what it would be like to bead an entire costume...they are hand made!!

Dancing played a central part in pow-wows (generally an inter-tribal gathering where tribes would dance, make alliances, get together with other bands of the tribe (bands make up tribes, hope that make sense), etc. and ceremonies (that commerated a special event, (i.e. changing of the seasons, birth, death, crop change (i.e. wild ricing (esp. in the Great Lakes region)), etc.

So the dancing. There are men's dances & women's dances. At pow-wows there are also intertribal dances, this means everyone (non-Natives can also dance) at the pow-wow can dance. Pow-wow dancing takes place in a circle, reprenting infinity and unbrokenness. Native culture is very circular meaning that when something ended (i.e. a death), something new would begin a new circle (i.e. a birth). I've been an Irish dancer since I was 13. I danced in my first pow-wow a few years ago. I said it then & I will say it again, none of my almost 10 years of Irish dancing even came close to what I felt dancing in a pow-wow. It was the most amazing workout I've ever had dancing. It was an exhillerating experience & I would do it again in a heartbeat. Dancing is done clockwise, with drums in the center. The drum is big, a sacred, and holy object, usually painted with special significance to the tribe that it belongs too. The drummers sit in a circle around it, and it sounds like a heart beating. The songs are sung in the Native language, with many vocables (non-words that fill space, sort of like holding out notes, or humming, if that makes sense).

The men's dances:

Fancy Dancing

It's probably the most recognized form of Native dancing (in my opinion anyway). The pictures that were posted were of men fancy dancing. I've seen that boy dance, and he is amazing. Many of these dancers will dance with sacred eagle feathers.

This is the oldest form of dance in the Indian culture. The regalia is often thought to represent the animals that the Creator put on the earth. The movements tell of warrior actions-hunting, stalking the game, battling an enemy. The regalia is a very per sonal expression of creativity and artistry. While there is no prescribed look, several elements might reflect items worn by early warriors: a breast plate made of animal bones or shell for protection against arrows; a neck choker for protection against knives; ankle bells or jingling hooves; or a shield made of hide and decorated with important tribal symbols. Often a traditional dancer will wear a single bustle containing eagle feathers, which are considered sacred to the Indian people. The eagle flies the highest and carries the prayers of the people to the Creator. Eagle feathers are traditionally awarded for feats of bravery or accomplishment. ( . . .)

Men's Grass Dance

The dancers wear brightly colored outfits, with lots of yarn hanging off of them.

Several stories about the beginnings of the grass dance are told. One tells of the grass dance coming from the movements of the early scouts seeking a site. The grass being high in new areas, the scouts would dance in a special way to flatten the grass and make it acceptable for a new camp or meeting site. The grass dance movements also reflect warrior movements such as stalking the game or enemy and fighting the enemy (including one movement representing one of the warrior's legs being staked and unable to move and battling with this leg in a held position). The grass dance is often said to reflect the need for balance in life; each movement that is danced on one side must be repeated by the other side. Some people talk of the grass dance as a gift from the Creator to celebrate joy. There is rich lore surrounding this dance. The regalia for the dance is comprised of long strands of yarn, ribbon or fabric attached to a base outfit to represent grass or in some theories the scalps of enemies. A headdress called a roach is worn. The roach has two feathers attached in such a way that they rock or twirl as the dancer moves. As in all the dances, the dancer must move with the beats of the drum ending with both feet on the ground on the final beat. (same website)

Women's Traditional

Woman's traditional dance requires enormous stamina, concentration and grace. The movements are very focused. Women move their feet in time with the drum keeping them close to the ground. As the drum plays "honor beats," women raise their fans to honor th e drum and their male relatives. An important element of women's traditional dance is the regalia. Women's traditional regalia will usually include a fringed shawl held gracefully folded over one arm, an awl and knife case on the belt and a feather (often eagle ) fan. Southern or Oklahoma style women's traditional often feature buckskin or cloth outfits to go with their more overt rhythmic dance movement. The regalia will feature beautiful beadwork (usually created by the woman dancer) in patterns and co lors that reflect tribal and family affiliation. Dakota patterns, for instance, often are in rainbow colors and geometric in shape, representing the colors and patterns of their homeland on the plains. The Ojibwe or Ho Chunnk ragalia often reflect floral patterns and woodland colors showing the woodland Indian influence (same website).

Women's Jingle Dress

This dance has its origins in northern Minnesota and was introduced to the Pan-Indian community by the Ojibwe people. As the story goes, a medicine man's granddaughter was very ill. He had a dream in which a spirit wearing the jingle dress came to him and told him to make one of these dresses and put it on his daughter to cure her. When he awoke, he and his wife proceeded to assemble the dress as described by the spirit of his dream. When finished, they and others brought his granddaughter to the dance ha ll and she put on the dress. During the first circle around the room, she needed to be carried. During the second circle around the room, she could barely walk and needed the assistance of several women. The third circle around the room she found she coul d walk without assistance and during the fourth circle around the room, she danced. The jingle dress is made of a cloth, velvet or leather base adorned with jingles made out of a shiny metal. Traditionally and still common today, the jingles are made from the lids of snuff cans. These are bent and molded into triangular bell shapes and attached to the dress with ribbon or fabric in a pattern designed by the dancer. It takes between 400 and 700 jingles to make an adult jingle dress.

The dance itself is designed to incorporate the sound of the jingles by allowing them to move; that is, to make them jingle, or be made "happy." The steps are controlled and do not invlove high kicking or twirls. Often the steps are in a zigzag pattern t o reflect the zigzagging involved in the journey of life. Similar to Men's Grass dancing, the feet often do parallel movements. Similar to a Women's Traditional dancer, the Jingle Dress dancer also raises her fan when the "honor beats" are played on the d rum. As in all dances, the Jingle Dress dancer must stay in time with the drum beat and stop with both feet on the ground on the final beat.

Women's Fancy Shawl

This is the most modern of the women's dances. Some say it was originally called the blanket dance and women danced with a blanket or shawl covering their heads. It was called Graceful Shawl dance in the '60s and the dance steps were closer to the ground and smaller than what is performed today. This is an extremely athletic and strenuous dance involving kicks and twirls and fast movement. It parallels the Men's Fancy Bustle dance in speed and style. Women dance with beautifully decorated shawls often wit h long ribbon or fabric fringe. The regalia of this dance also includes beaded high moccasins. The symbols and colors beaded on the moccasins have tribal and or personal significance to the dancer.

Men's Fancy Dance

One of the more modern dances in the PowWow, Men's Fancy dance is the most strenuous and athletic. To be good at this dance, the dancer must train for stamina and agility. The dance is fast and features jumps and twirling. The regalia is said to represent the rainbow spirits in its bright colors and flying feathers and ribbons. The Men's Fancy dancer typically wears two bustles of bright colored feathers with added ribbon, feather or horse hair hackles and bright arm and head bands repeating the colors and patterns. The dancer also wears a headdress roach trimmed in colored horsehair and featuring two eagle feathers. The roach is designed to keep the feathers either spinning or rocking in movement. It is part of the dance to keep the feathers moving constantly throughout the song. Dancers also carry coup sticks which are highly decorated with ribbons or feathers. The coup stick was originally a small stick carried into battle by a warrior. It was considered a great sign of bravery if you were able to touch your enemy with your coup stick (much more brave than killing your enemy).

Hope I've helped! All explanations were taken from the same website cited above!
re: Native American dance, What is it? (karma: 1)
By raqssharkidancer
On Thu Jan 26, 2006 07:08 PM
That was an excellent explanation, thank you so much for that,as I was too lazy to explain in such detail as you. Well I live in a community where it is 80%aboriginal and 4 reserves within 1-50km region, so I get to see a lot of dancing and drumming. Here we have many kinds of dancers, but mostly womens/mens traditional, fancy, and shall. But there are hundreds of different kinds such as Snake, rain, and many others. Dancers must know hundreds of differnt songs/beats in order to dance to them well. Some men dancers are "tricked" by the drumming group who quickly change beats in order to fool the dancer. A dancer must be sharp and fast!
Some dancing tell a story such as a hunt, or dress up as animals (bear, coyote, wolf).
One dance I particularily like is called "Crow", where the dancer mimicks the movements of the Crow. The feet are quick and fast. The beat is fast and hypnotic as well.

One pow wow dancer I met last month had a full beaded costume of hand-cured hyde. The women are usually responsible for the hyde tanning, and the men are often the one's to make the kill(deer, moose). His mother and him both did the bead work which covered his entire moccassins, arm cuffs, vest, head band, and many other peices. His outfit cost him a total of $1500 and he said it will be worn out in 6 months and he will have to make another.
A huge array of feathers branched out from his back, and his front adorned with a full breast plate of bones and beads. His face was painted fully in warrior markings.
He also had dream catchers, eagle feathers, and a small tomahawk.

Most pow wow dancers do not cut thier hair for spiritual reasons. The symbols that decorate their costumes and drums are sacred and are often drempt of in a dream or vision.

The drums are also sacred and thought to hold the great spirit within it. You can watch drummers but it is extremely rude to touch thier drums or walk inside thier circle. Most drums are carefully stored, and some cannot touch the ground. Yet some drummers only place thiers on the ground - depends on region.

Women who are on their "moon cycle" or in our terms menstruating are not allowed to drum, dance, or participate in ceremonies. This is due to the belief that women on their moon cycles are extremely powerful and to take indian medicine (drum, dance) that it would be "stealing" and being selfish, and cause get grief or hard times on her and her people. Thier moon cycle is a reminder that they are given the gift of being mothers - men cannot possess this gift.
A mentruating women is also forbidden to touch sacred objects-dream catchers, feathers, etc. and certainly cannot go into a sweat either.

You cannot buy a pow wow outfit as each are sacred to the dancer and very personal.

Before any dancing or drumming can go on, the ground and space is cleansed and cleared spiritually with prayer and smudging "burning" sweet grass and/or sage. A medicine man or equivalent will do the honors as there is rituals and knowledge behind it. the sweet grass and sage are hand gethered, and blessed. A true medicine knows how to find all herbs for ailments/problems and can tell suttle differences (male or female sage).
There is also a certain tradition on how one can smudge themeselves. Each region is different.

Most pow wow dancers love to perform and will come to schools, events, etc. often free of charge. They are always entertaining, and the costumes incredible.
re: Native American dance, What is it?
By raqssharkidancer
On Thu Jan 26, 2006 07:15 PM
re: Native American dance, What is it?
By Jamie_Steptoesmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Mon Feb 13, 2006 07:18 PM
Thanks Alot for the explanation!!

It really helped!

native american dance
By Bailarina29
On Thu Mar 02, 2006 08:41 AM
thank you for such an explanatory response...very helpful
native american dance
By Bailarina29
On Thu Mar 02, 2006 08:44 AM
It is great to see that there is enthusiasm for what form of dance was here long before ballet, tap, jazz, modern, hip hop, folk and other types of dance! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences with everyone!!
re: Native American dance, What is it?
By dee_on_knee
On Wed Apr 12, 2006 10:41 PM
Great info! Even I learned a thing or two and we go to several Pow Wows a year. I have a funny story about the pow wow we attended last weekend (maybe it's just funny/cute to me)!
My 5 year old son has been to many pow wows in his life but I took the time to explain some things that I never had before. It was a Men's Traditional Dance (one not mentioned above) and I was explaining that when the men dance they are telling a story through their dance movements. There was a little boy dancing very well and people were putting money down in front of him while he danced (a common practice). I asked my son what he thought the little boy was telling a story about, I gave him some suggestions like hunting, etc. He thought for a moment then said very matter-of-factly "I think he's telling a story about jumping around on some dollars."


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