Author: Johhny Maple

The Role Of Traditional Dances In Native American Religions

In Native American Culture, there are many traditional dances that take place for religious ceremonies. Native American dances take a vital position in family gatherings including marriages, the birth of a child, death, harvest time and more. There is little in Native American culture that doesn’t involve some form of dance as a way of celebration, solemnity, and respect. 

Native American dances aren’t just reserved for religious ceremonies, they are also a valued part of everyday life as well. Native American’s dance when they are happy, sad, and everything in between.

Since there are so many different tribes there are many different dances. Even the same tribe will have variances in the dances due to regional differences or simply family traditions.

Most of these dances are done to a drum beat that is done by specific “drummers” in the tribe. Some are also accompanied by a wooden flute type musical instrument that is played along with the drumming.

Adding to the festive mood is the fact that many of the Native American’s wear disguises during the dance festivities. Often called Regalia, their dress may include many beads and feathers as well as unique headdresses (used mostly by the men although some women will have a few feathers in their hair and beads or beading).

The regalia includes deerskin dresses and leggings, beading, bugle beads, feathers, a guide on lasting longer and moccasins. If you’ve never been to an American Indian Pow Wow, you’ver really missed out on a cultural activity that showcases the dance and the dress of Native American’s. 

Dance has always been a part of Native American culture. It’s part duty, part ritual and it plays a vital role in all of their religious ceremonies. 

Movement in Native American dance is frequently done around a fire pit or at least in a circle. It involves a lot of hand and upper body movement and tends to tell a story through motion.

They dance to give thanks to Mother Earth for a bountiful harvest. They give a blessing for good crops and to show respect for a person or someone who has passed on.

In the early 1920s through the late 1930s, many of their dances were done “underground” as the American Government outlawed them in hopes of “domesticating” the American Indians.

They did this to help preserve their culture and traditions. One of the common dances is called the “Ghost Dance” which was done to give them hope during a time of great upheaval to many of the nations. 

It told a story of the Messiah come to earth to save them and their culture. It involved the men dressing in full regalia and using hand motions and upper body movement with the sweeping and swaying of arms and the torso to the beat of a drum “telling” the story of how it came to be. 

Another frequently done dance is called the Fancy Dance. The men (and a few of the women) dress up in highly colorful regalia which includes bright colored feather bustles, headwear full of feathers, beading, beaded bodices and leggings, shawls as well as moccasins. The clothing is heavily decorated with fringe, beading, and feathers and sometimes ribbons.

It’s not unusual to see earrings, bracelets as well as huge eagle plumes (which resemble a male turkey or peacock fanning their fathers). Each person makes their own with help from friends and family. They use feathers and beads that are special to them personally.

This is probably the most often seen dance at pow wows and public demonstrations. They will leap about and come down with their knees slightly bent. Focusing on upper body movement with the swaying or spreading of arms and leaning this way and that with the torso. 

Today, the Fancy Dance is also considered a competitive sport and during Pow Wows there are often many competitions from the very young (just learning to walk) to the elders in their 70s and older. Each age bracket will have its own competition.

The Essential Guide To Different Types Of Native American Ceremonial Dances

The history of Western civilization is filled with colonization. If people were to take a moment and examine their country’s history, they would find that their ancestry includes a mixture of cultures. In the United States, one will find a ‘mish-mash’ of English, Irish, African, and Native American backgrounds.

Special thanks to the folks at for assisting in this research.

As the year’s progress and we are talking about several centuries, the cultures merge to form unique personalities. For example, Africans who traveled across the seas have a genealogy in African American cultures where the individual speaks with an American accent but is dark of skin. Another example is the presence of the Europeans and their white skin tone with an American accent resulting in the ‘white’ American.

Unfortunately, one culture is slowly being removed from the United States community. This culture is the Native American culture and is the original culture of the country. Luckily, the remaining Native Americans who present with mixed backgrounds continue to promote their Native roots, so if you talk to a guy from one of them you will get a lot of informaton. This article will discuss the use of ceremonies to promote and enforce the presence of this civilization. Keep in mind that this article has no intention of discrimination against any individuals living in the United States of America or elsewhere and should not be viewed as such.

•    The Stomp Dance

The first form of cultural expression is the stomp dance. A tradition typically practised by the Chickasaw Tribe of Okla, the stomp dance is used to request items from the tribe’s ritualistic Creator. It begins with the ground leader announcing that he will be leading the dance. The leader is most commonly the leader of the tribe. 

Once the leader is announced, he or she will head towards the ceremonial fire shaking a rattle or shell shaker. Followed by the rest of the people, the men and women will alternate in the line and stomp their feet wearing rattles around their ankles. A rhythm song is sung as the members of the ceremony follow the leader clockwise around the ceremonial fire.

As the members walk around the fire, a conversation is held between the leader and the male members of the tribe. The leader will call out requests, and the men will respond in song as if they were the Creator responding to the request. Legend states that whatever is requested from the Creator will be brought to fruition four days later.  

•    The Ghost Dance

The ghost dance is a ceremonial dance performed by all Native American tribes and is associated with the symbolization of Earth regeneration. Unlike other ceremonial dances, this type of performance is relatively unstructured and requires only that the members move in a manner that will awaken their deceased ancestors’ spirits. The movement in the manner of a deceased spirit is important as it will prompt a communication with the loved one.

The ghost dance is most commonly used among members who have recently lost relatives. It has been noted as a means of giving individual’s closure, despite the fear of facing the death of the loved one. It was first performed when Native Americans were killed by American soldiers at the Battle of the Wounded Knee.

Learning More About Native American Traditional Dances

Dance is a big part of Native American culture. Tribes have been using dance for a very long time. Dance is how tribes celebrate things, and it is also a part of how tribes more. 

If you have an interest in Native American culture and traditions, you should try to learn more about their dances. You can learn a great deal if you study Native American traditional dances. Visit for an even more complete list.

The Ghost Dance 

This is a dance that can be traced back to the late 1880s. Native American tribes were struggling during this time. People were looking for some source of hope, and for someone teaching how to bleach your skin to them. 

This dance was designed to give them the hope that they were looking for. It is believed that this dance was founded by a man named Wovoka, who was a part of the Paiute tribe. At the time, Wovoka identified himself as a Messianic figure.

Gourd Dances

Gourd dances are practiced by a number of Native American tribes. It was especially common to see these dances during a Pow Wow. 

The dance is based on a legend about a man that discovered a dancing red wolf. There are legends like this that are believed by the Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Comanche tribes. Although this dance was traditionally performed by men, women are allowed to participate as well. 

The Hoop Dance 

In many cases, Native Americans use dancing as a form of storytelling. The Hoop Dance is an excellent example of this. This dance requires people to use hoops to create moving shapes. The shapes tell a story to an audience. 

In many cases, the hoops are used to mimic animals. It is common to see hoops replicate creatures like turtles, eagles, and snakes. 

Grass Dance 

In the past, Native Americans had to flatten the grass in their region. Instead of making this a job, they turned it into a celebration. They created a dance that would flatten the grass in the area. 

Because this dance is so old, a lot of people aren’t fully aware of its history. Certain aspects of the dance have been lost to time. 

Rain Dances 

Rain dances are probably the most famous type of dance that Native Americans perform. As the name suggests, the dance is a way to encourage rain to fall from the skies. It is typically performed during the summer, when the weather tends to be at its driest. 

This is a ceremonial dance that is performed by both men and women. Today, rain dances are performed even when people aren’t actively wishing for rain. The goal of the dance isn’t always to make rain fall from the skies. In some cases, the aim of the dance is to honor the traditions of the past. 

Stomp Dances 

Stomp dances are a lot of fun to watch. As a matter of fact, there are professional dance troupes that have been directly inspired by this form of dance. 

This dance has roots in many different tribes, particularly tribes that were based in the eastern portion of the United States. The dance is sometimes called the “Opvnkv Haco” dance, which roughly translates to “crazy” dance. Performances of this dance tend to be very spirited, and people typically get a lot out of watching these performances. 

The Hopi Snake Dance 

There is a lot of information about the Hopi Indians that has been lost. Thankfully, we still have a lot of information about their snake dance. This dance was once performed every year during the month of August. 

This dance requires a great deal of preparation. In the past, dancers spent as much as 2 weeks preparing for a performance.

The public used to be permitted to watch performances of this dance. Unfortunately, this is no longer allowed. Today, the public is not permitted to watch this dance. Only members of the Hopi tribe are allowed to be there when the dance is performed. 

The Fancy Dance 

This dance is something that you’ll see a lot of tribes perform today. That said, this dance doesn’t have the long history that a lot of other dances have. As a matter of fact, it was created very recently. It can be traced back to the 1920s and 30s. 

This dance was created by Ponca tribes. The idea behind the dance was for the tribe to protect their culture and their traditions. The dance is inspired by the tribe’s war dance. Unlike many other dances with a longer history, this dance could legally be performed in public when laws about public dancing were more strict. 

If you don’t know a lot about Native American traditional dances, you certainly aren’t alone. Thankfully, there are a number of things that you can do if you want to learn more. Make a point of watching videos of dances and attending performances. See what you can learn.

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.

Native American Dances Provide Historical and Cultural Continuity in Present Times

Dancing has held a significant place in American Indian culture as both an amusement and as a solemn ritual. Historically, they’ve played an important role in the practice of their religions, and have been held to obtain the success of harvests and hunts, to show gratitude, and as part of other celebrations. Today, dance continues to be an important part of their culture, and dances are often a reflection of tribal identity. Here are four examples of Native American dances, and the historical meanings attached to them.

The Sun Dance was practiced by several different tribes, and was considered by the Plains Indians to be among the most important ceremonial dances they held. It symbolized the continuity of life throughout eternity, and also our dependency on and connection to nature. They were held yearly at the time of the summer solstice, and would last for up to eight days, continuing from sunrise until sunset.

The Stomp Dance is a traditional Chickasaw tribal dance to obtain special favors from the gods. This is a very familiar dance to many of us, as it has often been depicted in movies. The leader would begin with a song, then head toward the ceremonial fire with a rattle or shell shaker in hand, followed by the others wearing ankle rattles. The leader would call out to the Creator, and the men would respond as if speaking for the Creator. It is believed that whatever was requested would be granted within four days. 

The Ghost Dance symbolized the rebirth of Earth, and the spiritual gift of an exalted state of bliss for Earth’s caregivers. It gives closure and courage to those that have lost loved ones. There was very little structure to the dance, which makes this dance unusual. All that was required was for participants to dance in a way of their choosing, that could awaken their ancestors so they could communicate with them. This is dance is associated with tragic history, as it was the dance that was being done when American soldiers attacked them during the Battle of Wounded Knee. 

The Grass Dance is one of the oldest Native American dances that is known today. The dance symbolized the tribe’s victory over their enemies. It was also often used to flatten grass in an area in order to prepare the location for a tribal ceremony. Participants would be adorned with headdresses, ribbons, and fringes in order to emphasize the natural movement of grass as it’s blown in the wind, which they sought to imitate.

Native Americans continue the tradition of using these and other dances to connect with each other and to honor the beloved traditions of their people. Dance continues to be an important aspect of their society, and it serves as a vehicle for preserving their fascinating and diverse cultures. It is a mechanism for keeping their history alive, in a nation that is far removed from where they came from.