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David Fisk (Lens of
American Dances - Page 2
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Gourd Dance -
Believed to have originated with the
Kiowa tribe, gourd
dances are often
held to coincide with a Pow-Wow, although it has its own unique
Kiowa legend has it that when a you man was out alone he heard an
unusual song coming from the other side of a hill. Investigating, he found
the song was coming from a red wolf who was dancing on its hind legs.
After listening to more songs through the night, the next morning the wolf
told him to take the songs and dance back to the
Kiowa people. The "howl"
at the end of each gourd dance song is a tribute to the red wolf. The
dance in the
language is called "Ti-ah pi-ah" which means "ready to
go, ready to die."
also have legends about the gourd dance. The ceremony soon spread to other
tribes and societies.
The Gourd Dance, photo courtesy
Gathering of Nations.
The dance is performed by men but women can participate by dancing in
place behind the men and outside the circular arena. The drum can be
placed on the side or in the center of the circle and the dancers perform
around the perimeter of the area, usually dancing in place. The
simple, with the participants lifting their heels with the beat of the
drum and shaking their rattles. Dress is also not elaborate, with sashes
being worn by the dancers, around the waist or draped around the neck,
reaching the ground.
Beginning in 1890 the United States government began to actively enforce
bans on these dances and by the 1930's it was out of practice. However,
several tribes have resurrected the dance today. Some gourd societies do
not distinguish race as a criteria for joining, even allowing non-Native
Americans to be inducted into their gourd societies. However,
Kiowa allow only members which are half blood or more. During
today, gourd dancing generally occurs before the Grand Entry. The rattles
used in Pow-Wows are not made of a gourd; but rather a tin or silver
cylinder filled with beads on a beaded handle.
Grass Dance -
One of the oldest and most widely used
in Native American culture, it was the job of the grass dancers to flatten
the grass in the arena before other important celebrations. However, the
name "grass" does not come from the stomping down the terrain; but,
rather, from the old habit of tying braids of sweet grass to the dancer's
belts, which produced a swaying effect. Traditionally a mens'
it is thought to have begun with the northern
Plains Indians, particularly
and the Dakota Sioux. An old legend tells that it was
created by a handicapped Northern Plains boy who had a desire to dance.
After consulting a Medicine Man, he was instructed to seek inspiration on
the prairie. Following the advice, he went alone out on the plains where
he had a vision of himself dancing in the style of the swaying grasses.
When he returned to the camp, he shared his vision and was said to have
eventually later able to use his legs, performing the first grass dance. In addition to its practical
purpose, another objective of the dance is to honor and respect the
to gain spiritual strength from their mother earth. A popular dance today
in which both men and women participate, the is
dance is full of color and
movement. Dancers resemble a multicolored swaying mass of yarn or fringe
which represents grass. As the dancers move in fluid and bending positions
to the music, their positions replicate the movement of grass blowing in
the breezes. The dance today is largely intertribal, owing its longevity,
in part, to a modernization of ceremonies prompted by early 20th-century
oppression. Special blessings are not only bestowed upon the dancers, but
to observers as well.
Hoop Dance courtesy
Dance - Going back for centuries, the Hoop Dance is a
storytelling dance, which incorporates from 1-40 hoops to create
both static and dynamic shapes. These formations represent the movements
of various animals and other storytelling elements. In its earliest form,
the dance is believed to have been part of a healing
ceremony designed to
restore balance and harmony in the world. With no beginning or end, the
hoop represents the never-ending circle of life. The hoops, typically made
of reeds or wood, are used to create symbolic shapes, including
butterflies, turtles, eagles, flowers, and snakes.
There are several tales of how
the dance originated. Some say the Creator
gave a series of wooden hoops and the "dance" to a dying man from the
Northern Plains who wanted a gift to leave behind. Another story in the
Southwest tells that the hoops were developed by cliff-dwellers for
children to learn dexterity.
prominent legend has the Hoop Dance originating in the Anishinaabe culture, when an
unearthly spirit was born to live amongst the people. The boy did not show
any interest in typical boys activities such as running and hunting,
preferring to be alone and watch animals. This caused his father to shun
him and earned him the name Pukawiss: the disowned or unwanted. However,
the boy continued to watch the movements of eagles, bears, snakes, and
birds and before long was spinning like an eagle in flight, hopping
through the grass like a rabbit, and created the Hoop Dance to teach the
Indians about the ways of the animals. Before long, Pukawiss was so
popular that every village wanted to learn the
Today, the Hoop Dance remains
popular. It is generally performed by a solo dancer who begins with a
single hoop, evoking the circle of life. Additional hoops are added
representing other life elements, including humans, animals, wind, water,
and seasons. The dance incorporates very rapid moves in which the hoops
are made to interlock and extended from the body forming appendages such
as wings and tails. Practiced by a number of
tribestoday, it has evolved
over the years, becoming faster and incorporating many non-traditional
influences. It has also become a highly competitive event, with the first
World Hoop Dance Competition held at the New Mexico State Fair in 1991.
Today, the most popular competition is held annually at the Heard Museum
Continued Next Page
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