June 20, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Native American Dances and Meanings

3 min read

Native American Dances and Meanings

One of the most beautiful things about Native American culture is the rich forms of art this group has brought to America. Among forms of art such as painting, sculpting and storytelling, the truly unique quality of Native American dance makes it the most awe-inspiring and thought-provoking of them all. To the untrained eye, these Native American dances may look like nothing more than interesting movements designed to match the rhythm of a song. On the contrary, dances in this culture each have a deeper purpose and significance that exemplifies how powerful this medium can be in expressing an idea.

1. Stomp Dance

Practiced by the Chickasaw tribe, the traditional stomp dance begins with an announcement by one of the ground leaders, indicating that he will be leading the song. He then heads toward the ceremonial fire with a shell shaker, or rattle, in hand, leading the rest of the people behind him. Women and men traditionally alternate in this line, with the women wearing rattles around their ankles and maintaining the rhythm of the song. Tribe members walk clockwise around the fire. The lead singer then calls out to the Creator, with the men responding as if the Creator is speaking through them. Legend says that whatever the lead singer requests from the Creator during this ceremony will be brought to fruition within four days. These types of performances can be seen at The Chickasaw Cultural Center, in Sulphur, Okla.

2. Ghost Dance

The ghost dance is performed to symbolize the regeneration of Earth and the spiritual reward of the Earth’s caretakers into a carefree, exalted state of bliss. Unlike other forms of Native American dance, the ghost dance is fairly unstructured, asking only that the participants move in a manner to awaken the spirits of their deceased ancestors and communicate with them. This gives the dancers closure and courage despite the death of these loved ones. Unfortunately, the ghost dance has a tragic association, since it was the very one Indians were performing when American soldiers gunned them down at the Battle of Wounded Knee.

3. Sun Dance

The sun dance ceremony symbolizes the eternal continuity of life. This ceremony was practiced by several different tribes and was often considered one of the most important religious ceremonies of Plains Indians in the 19th century. Sun dances were held every year during the summer solstice and lasted four to eight days – beginning and ending at sunset. This not only symbolized the infinite cycle of life, but also its connection to and dependency on nature.

4. Grass Dance

One of the oldest tribal dances known today is the Native American grass dance, which mimics the quiet swaying movements of grass when the wind blows. This movement is emphasized with headdresses, fringes and ribbons on the dancers’ costumes. Another form of the grass dance involves dancing intentionally to flatten the grass and prepare the ground for a tribal ceremony. This grass-flattening technique also symbolizes victory over the enemy.

Native Americans have used dance as a way to connect with each other and honor longstanding traditions. Dance is an important part of socialization, as well as preservation of fascinating and distinct cultures.

This is a guest post by Cassandra Lynne who is an avid traveler and adventure seeker. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending her time outdoors hiking and camping with her pup, Joy. Follow her on Twitter @goodmorningblog.

Other resources:

10 thoughts on “Native American Dances and Meanings

  1. Yes I believe there are meanings to tribal dances which these new current generations aren’t aware of. Sad this people are they still around to tell us how the seek God in the spirit world.
    I mean the true living God is a Spirit. I believe has time pass many went astray seeking objects to worship and then walk against God by using magical elements.
    I am a Christian and I walk with my relatives who aren’t. I love them and follow the young generation to dance. but I will always remember not to be influence cause I have gone true
    washing by water and fire. So has the scripture says “where can I hide from you oh Lord.
    even beneath the depths of the earth your Spirit is there.

  2. Hello, I’m doing a report on Native American dances for a school project and I need an expert opinion on It. I very intrigued by Native American culture how the hunt and ceremony. When you have the time I will be delighted to hear from you. If you know any native Americans that could give me their opinion that will be very helpful.

    1. I am a female Native American living on the Fort Peck Assiniboine/Sioux Indian reservation in northeastern Montana. We have pow wow celebrations throughout the year but most are in the summer months. I have many family members that choose to participate. I say ‘choose’ because we never force our children to dance and the ones who do choose usually continue to dance until they are too old to. Are there any specific questions you need answers to?

      1. Yes, what is the name of the dance where the woman holds the feather fan in front of her and her arm to the side of her?

  3. Just attended Standing Ground, the first Symposium and Pow Wow by the United Lenape Nations, ever in NYC.
    Have not been able to find any information as to why the Native American dance contests, are only for 6 years to 54 years.

  4. Hello to all that may be concerned. This is not a reply to the above, but a question, if you are able to help me. I have relatives 5 generations back, that grandmother was Cherokee. This is a matter of a document concerning the United States department of War that proves my ancestor. My question is this (if you could help me I would be forever thankful): My heart is after this grandmother, I long for my Cherokee People. If my blood quantum is too small, I desire to be adopted by a Cherokee family or person. Could you please help me? I do not believe I accidently found your site.

  5. What is the origin of women’s traditional dance? What kind of regalia do they wear? Also, what types of music do they dance to?

  6. Could someone please tell me the Lakota sioux name for ‘Dances with Water”. We have a little boy who is totally absorbed with the Sioux people and their history. He loves dancing and splashing around in the water, and I would like him to have a traditional Lakota name which would be appropriate to his favourite pastime and I know he would thrilled and honoured with such a title.
    Any help would be much appreciated.

    Best wishes

Comments are closed.