Native American Dances

Dance Ceremonies

Dance ceremonies are vital to the Native American way of life. Pre-Columbian Native spirituality in the Americas spanned the forms of animism, polytheism, the use of plants to enter higher mental or spiritual states, special dances or rituals, and a high regard for the overall well-being of the tribe. Some of these practices continue today in private tribal ceremonies.

Sun Dance

The Sun Dance is a ceremony practiced by some Indigenous Peoples of North America and Canada, primarily those of the plains cultures. In very general terms, there are features common to the ceremonies of the sun dance cultures, such as dances and songs passed down through many generations, the use of a traditional drum, a sacred fire, praying with a pipe, fasting, and in some cases the ceremonial piercing of skin. Certain native plants are picked and prepared for use during the ceremony. Natural medicines are used for health and well being, as are traditional foods. Wood is harvested for a sacred fire, and a firekeeper must tend the fire that burns for many days and nights.

The Midewiwin Dance

The Indians of the Plains and Great Lakes developed an institution of great importance called the Midewiwin, (or Grand Medicine Society), and initiated members into the knowledge and rituals of the Mide religion. As part of the initiation ceremonies, a leader recounted stories of the origin of the people near the salt seas who had been guided west by a sacred shell. Mide priests kept birchbark maps of the migration route with symbolic markings that indicated the songs and procedure for stages of the initiation rites. The Midewiwin promoted the knowledge of herbal medicine and advocated balance in all aspects of life.

The Dream Dance

The Dream Dance, a religious revitalization movement of the Klamath and Modoc, evolved out of the Ghost Dance and Earth Lodge Religion. It involved the power of dreams and visions of the dead. Unlike the Klamath and Modoc religions the Dream Dance did not predict an apocalypse and return of the dead. The religion was only practiced a short time in Oregon in the early 20th century. One of the founders was the Modoc medicine woman commonly known as Alissa Laham.

Buffalo Dance

The Buffalo Dance, or Bison Dance, is an annual dance festival of many North American Plains Indians, including the Mandan, Sioux, Cheyenne, Pawnee, and Omaha, among others.

The festival traditionally coincided with the return of the buffalo herds, and included a feast and a dance with a number of men wearing buffalo and other animal skins. As the buffalo, or bison, was so central to society, it was important to assure the return of the herd and an abundance of food and resources. The Buffalo Dance can also refer to section of larger ceremonies and dances, such as the Sun Dance. In some societies it was also a dance more associated with curing the ill, calling on the spirit of the buffalo.

Ghost Dance

According to spiritual leader Wovoka, proper practice of the dance would reunite the living with the spirits of the dead and bring peace, prosperity, and unity to native peoples throughout the region.

A new religious movement incorporated into numerous Native American belief systems. According to the prophet Jack Wilson (Wovoka)‘s teachings, proper practice of the dance would reunite the living with the spirits of the dead and bring peace, prosperity, and unity to native peoples throughout the region. The basis for the Ghost Dance, the circle dance, is a traditional ritual which has been used by many Native Americans since prehistoric times, but this new form was first practiced among the Nevada Paiute in 1889. The practice swept throughout much of the Western United States, quickly reaching areas of California and Oklahoma. As the Ghost Dance spread from its original source, Native American tribes synthesized selective aspects of the ritual with their own beliefs. This process often created change in both the society that integrated it, and in the ritual itself.