An Overview Of Native American Dances

Native American dances have long been an important part of their culture. They utilized dance as both a form of recreation and ritual. Some dances were even performed to honor others during certain ceremonies. Others may have been performed in hopes of blessing the surrounding land for a good harvest or upcoming hunt. The role that dancing played within the lives of Native Americans can not go understated. In effort to pay tribute some of the most well known Native American dances, several examples will be detailed below:

1 – The Sun Dance

The sun dance was performed by Upper Plains tribes, mostly within the area surrounding the Rocky Mountains A ceremonial form of dance, this was performed at the summer solstice, when the season changes from spring to summer. The preparations for the ceremony were taken very seriously, and they often began up to a year in advance. Each tribe had their own variation, but the principle was generally the same; a prayer for healing and the harmonization of body and spirit. In some cases, personal sacrifices would be made. Fasting or having certain areas of the skin pierced were not uncommon aspects of the ritual.

2 – The War Dance

Numerous tribes performed a war dance in order to help prepare them for an oncoming attack. They were very spiritual in nature, with the intent to help ensure success for the tribe in battle. Emotions ran high, helping everyone involved feel a sense of togetherness that would bolster their resolve and cement all of the beliefs that they intended to fight for. Typical war dances included prayer, the handling of sacred artifacts, incense burning, pipe passing, and even sitting within sweat lodges. Instrumentation from drums, whistles, and rattles was also often provided to create the appropriate mood.

3 – The Fancy Dance

The Fancy Dance was first practiced by the Ponca tribe sometime between the 1920s and 30s. It was largely a celebration of culture and religion. In this time period, the United States government had outlawed Native American dances. The aforementioned Fancy Dances were held in secret as an act of defiance and cultural preservation alike. They took several cues from the War Dance described above, and they were ultimately allowed to be performed during special reservation visits. Dances of this nature are still performed at special events to this day. 

4 – The Gourd Dance

Practiced by the Kiowa tribe, the Gourd Dance was held in honor of an old legend that tells the story of a dancing red wolf. Each dance is accompanied by a howl at the end to pay tribute. It was generally only performed by men within a Pow-wow, though women were free to join along behind them. 

5 – The Ghost Dance

Starting in the 1880s, the Ghost Dance was created when Indian reservation conditions were especially poor. Performing this dance gave the natives hope.  Originally established by Wovoka, a Paiute Indian claiming to be the messiah, the dance itself is obviously steeped in both spirituality and mysticism.