Native American dance forms, are the indigenous, folk-art forms like rest of the world. It evolved round a range of rituals. Native Americans folkies are also known to engage in dance performances for sheer fun. However, dancing is much more than mere performance for the native people; it is, in fact, a way of life.

Thus, the Native Americans render different dance performances on special occasions – to mark the arrival of a newborn, to celebrate a wedding ceremony and to commemorate a victory. There are dances for even the common pursuits of life like hunting. The native Americans even resort to dances for noble purposes like while praying, healing or even for appeasing the natural world.

Diverse tribal groups spread in different geographical locations in the US and Canada, have their typical dance forms. Nonetheless, all the dance forms are unified (woven into a string) in their use of songs, drums, masks, highly adorned dresses and even in their movements. With elements of beauty, artistry and athleticism, the native American dances are usually performed in a circle – a symbolic representation of the bondage the people share with their origin, families and traditions.

Popular native American dances

Native American dances consist either of all female performers or of all male performers. Two traditional dances women participate in are ‘Buckskin’ and ‘Ladies cloth’ depending on the regalia, ceremonial dress worn by the performers. Buckskin is the oldest form of women’s dance. It is a highly graceful dance, with elegant, flowing movements. The dancers wear handcrafted buckskin dresses with generous beadwork to accent the beauty. The women are known to carry fringed shawls over one arm. Ladies cloth is yet another slow and graceful dance performed by women, which was popularized by the Kiowas, Osage, Ponca and others. Ladies Cloth is a Southern Traditional style women’s wear.

Men’s Northern Traditional dance derives from the old time Sioux dance form and is the oldest form of Native American dancing. The outfit too imitates the old Sioux style. The movements and postures in this folk dance have been identified with the actions of prairie chicken. Other interpretations also associate the movements with the actions of a warrior searching for some enemy.

Men’s Southern Traditional dance, also known as the Straight Dance, evolved from the popular Hethuska dances. Created by the Ponca people, the dance is rather slow, smooth but rhythmical, perfectly in step with the song. The dress is well tailored, creating an effect of solidity and truly reflecting the picture of pride, which is the essence of the dance.

Other than these chief dance forms, relatively new dances like Fancy or Feather Dance, Fancy Shawl Dance and Grass Dance are also performed in social congregations of the Native Americans (i.e. in Pow wow). As the names suggests, the chief items featuring in these dance-outfits are feathers, decorated shawls and grass. All these dance forms involve highly athletic movements and demand immense dedication from the performers. The Jingle Dance, perfected by the Chippewa tribe, is another lovely dance form. The apparel worn by the dancer is very interesting. It has rolled up snuff can lids hung from colorful ribbons as its decoration. The wearer sounds better than he/she looks in this outfit. When a dancer moves, the lids mimic the raining sound.

The love affair of the Native Americans with dance is centuries old and it continues even today. Participate in a pow wow event to have a full understanding of the madness, passion that the Native Americans nurture for the different dance forms. As said, they consider Native American dance as the best way to worship, to keep the ties with Mother Earth intact and to remain rooted in their tradition.

Joseph Paige © 2006

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