The Role of Native American Dance

Native American dance is not only a form of entertainment and enjoyment, but is also spiritual in nature. Native Americans often use dance as a way to get closer to the natural world. Native American dances can also be healing dances, warrior dances, or some type of ceremonial dance. Native American dances are also performed for family occasions, such as weddings, birthdays and for harvests, in hopes of getting plentiful crops each season.

One type of Native American dance is called the Hoop Dance. Hoop Dance is used as a way of telling a story using multiple hoops, sometimes up to thirty total.  Usually performed by an individual, the hoops in Hoop Dance are used to form various animal shapes such as butterflies and eagles. Hoop Dancing is a type of Native American dance which is done not only for storytelling, but also for dance competitions.

Another type of Native American dance is the gourd dance. Often associated with a pow-wow, a Native American social gathering which is often attended by non-natives also, the gourd dance can also be a separate social event in itself. Originally a dance created by the Kiowa tribe, this type of dance was often performed by male dancers, with female dancers dancing outside of the circle of men. Within the circle formed by the men, a drummer frequently plays music while the dance is performed.

Many Native Americans living in the Plains perform a Sun Dance, or Sundance. This is often a religious type dance performed by different Native American groups, each of which put their own spin on the dances used. Often times, this type of dance is passed down from one generation to the next. Some Native American tribes perform piercing rituals related to the Sun Dance, a practice not required, but often performed.

North American Native Americans also performed a Ghost Dance. This type of dance originated when Native Americans tried to further separate themselves from the white man. Popular amongst the Sioux and the Arapaho the ghost dance was performed with fast steps and loud music, in particular, drumming. This type of dance was a little different than other traditional Native American dances, in that women, as well as men were allowed to perform the main dancing. Ghost Dancing while still around, lost its emphasis after the Native American massacre at Wounded Knee.

In addition to those occasions mentioned above, some Native Americans celebrate with Potlach. A potlatch is a gathering which celebrates a family marriage, or birth. At these Potlachs a dance known as Spirit Dancing is performed. These dances are used for younger people to “catch” a guardian spirit to protect them.

These are just a few of the many Native American dances that were/are part of Native American ancestry. Each and every one has its own purpose with many of them serving multiple purposes. Each one is unique in its own right.