Boys' Native American Dance

Figure 1.--Ther New Mexico Tourist Bureau produced this photo postcard of boys learning the tribal rituals to carry on the ceremonies of their ancestors". The postcard is undated, but looks to us like the 1940s.

Native American dance is an imprtant type of ethnic or folk dance. Natove Americans perform dances for a range of events and occassions. Today this includes weddings and birthdays. Some dances are performed just for entertainment. Others have important traditional purposes related to agriculture, including rain and harvest. Other dances relate to the hunt. Many bdances involved religious ceremonies. The dances vsried from tribevto trible, but there are many important regional patterns.


No other event captures the American Indian spirit like the powwow or "wacipi." Dancers in colorful dress move gracefully around the ring, a steady drum beat directing their movements. Tradition is passed from one generation to the next. Today's powwows often feature competitions in categories such as traditional, fancy, grass, shawl, and jingle-dress dancing. Entrants wear different styles of clothing according to the dance. While a fancy dancer dons bustles and beads, a shawl dancer wears a long-fringed shawl over an elaborately beaded dress, moccassins, and leggings. Powwows present a great opportunity for non-Indians to learn about the culture, and most are open to the public. They can last anywhere from a few hours to several days, and frequently include craft displays, rodeos, and cultural exhibits. You might also get a taste of ethnic food such as the popular Indian taco, Indian fry bread, or "wojapi," a fruit pudding.

Traditional Dance

A popular, Northern style of dress and dance that has emerged in recent years, the traditional style, has evolved from the well known "old time Sioux" style of the early reservation period through the 1940's. Although a clear distinction exists, one can see an obvious connection to the old-time Sioux Outfit, with the dancer drawing from this earlier style various elements which he either adheres to or uses as a basis for his own interpretation. Therefore this form of dancing that has evolved over the years, is the oldest form of Native American dancing.

Constuming: Regalia

What follows is a brief description of the major articles that comprise the modern "traditional" dance outfit. It must be stressed that this is only a brief description; that variations do exist from area to area and from tribe to tribe; and that careful observation and research be undertaken before starting to construct this type outfit. On his head the traditional dancer wears a roach. The longer porcupine hair is preferred because of it's movement. The roach spreader can be made of bone, metal, rawhide or leather. It can be carved, beaded, painted, etc. or just left plain. The roach feathers are inserted in sockets on the spreader, with two roach feathers being the usual number. The rocker spreader, popular with fancy dancers, is never seen. Occasionally one will see dancers wearing beaded headbands, often decorated with medallions or drops. Quilled wheels can also be worn in the hair. Most dancers wear a shirt, either with or without ribbon decoration. Over the shirt is worn a breastplate that usually extends below the waist. Around the neck is a choker either of hair pipes and beads or a beaded strip. Many dancers also wear one or two bandoliers of hair pipes and beads or a 3 to 5 inch strip or otter or other fur decorated with mirrors or a combination of both. A vest can be worn either of cloth or leather. Some are beaded. Arm bands and cuffs can be either beaded or metal or a combination of the two such as beaded cuffs with metal arm bands. The breech cloth or aprons can be made of either cloth or leather and range from plain to heavily decorated. Around the waist many dancers wear a woven sash similar to a Hudson Bay sash. Over the sash can be worn a belt, which can be beaded or decorated with metal tacks or conchos. On their legs most dancers wear beaded knee bands with 6 to 10 inch leather fringe hanging from the bottom edge. Around the ankles are worn angora "furs". One may see the high fancy dance style furs worn with the bells tied on at the knees but this is less common. Although relatively rare, leggings can be worn in place of the furs and knee bands. Both the skin tube style and cloth flap leggings can be seen. When leggings are worn, the bells are tied round the knees. The bells can be almost any size and type. Fully or partially beaded, hard-soled moccasins are worn. The bustle is usually the U-shaped type with a single row of wing or tail feathers and two spikes pointing upward. Sometimes additional rows of dyed and stripped feathers, fluffs or hackles are on the inside of the bustle. Though not as common the circular bustle and the old style mess bustle are sometimes used, the latter being somewhat rare. In his hands, the dancer can carry a range of objects, commonly the wing fan, pipe bag and quirt. The movement in this style is one that is sometimes characterized as imitating a praire chicken. The dancer is also said to be re-enacting the movement of a warrior searching for the enemy. Serious native American dancers take their performance outfits very seriously. Dancers avoid, most object, to calling their dance regalia "costumes" because of the confusion with pretend outfits. Dance regalia may include Czech seed beads, Czech cut beads, bone hairpipe and tubes, buffalo horn hairpipe and tubes, tin, aluminum and brass cones, tin jingles and lids, buckskin, feathers, hackles, fluffs, tip plumes, books, videos, war bonnets, porky roaches, knife blades, hats, brass tacks, furs, faces, feet and tails, tobacco, pipes, brass beads, hollow metal beads, glass fire polish beads, plastic beads, crow beads, pony beads, tomahawks, brass smoking hawks, campware and ironware, clothing patterns, shirts, blankets, broadcloth, complete line of kits from breastplates, war bonnets, Native American Music, porky roaches to choker kits, teeth, claws, imitation claws and feet amd a long list of other items.

Scouting Indian Lore

Many American boy's introduction to American Indian lore and dance through Scouting programs. This used to be an important element in American Scouting as conceived by Ernest Thomas Seaton, but has declined considerably over the years. Cubs often participate in programs highligting Indian lore and dance. Many Scout troups have Indian dance groups that perform at special events and public functions. These enthusiastic groups have, however, varying levels of authenticity. Some of these groups give some attention to historical in choosing the outfits for dancing exhibitions. Other groups, however, make no real effort at realistic oufits, relying principally on their images built up by Hollywood over the years.


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Created: November 4, 1998
Last updated: 4:00 AM 7/27/2010