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Native American Dancing Essay

1823 words - 8 pages

Dance is the fastest, most direct route to the truth. This can be purely on an individual level, within a group, or an entire country and culture. Cultural dances are so precious to many civilizations, as they often contain pieces of their history and livelihood that would otherwise be lost. The American Indians are an example of this, as many tribes have looked to dance in the past as a way to convey joy, mourning, and even times of battle and war. The same is true at the roots of many people groups, as dance is a common language that unites us all on some level. The fact so much of the culture of the numerous tribes that once dominated this continent has been lost to history, makes the ...view middle of the document...

Within this article, one example from each of those previous regions will be explored, starting with the southwest.

Today, nineteen tribes of Native peoples sharing a common ancestor live in the southwestern United States: Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Sandia, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, and Zuni. When the Spanish came to the Southwest in the 1500s, they brought with them their Catholic religion and their saints. Missionaries introduced pueblo people to the saints, and the Native American beliefs and customs became intertwined with the Spanish beliefs. Slowly over time, these two radically different cultures intertwined, however the dances of the pueblo live on even today. The dances are not a show or performance. They are sacred rituals, and it is an honor to observe them, especially for outsiders. This not only applies to these tribes, but for Native American dances everywhere. Dance ceremonies are some of the most important forms of religious expression in Native American cultures. Thus, indigenous peoples must see some special, potent expressive capability in dance, and I wanted to distill and identify these qualities.
A typical Pueblo dance ceremony begins close to dawn. The costumed dancers gather in the kiva, the main ceremonial space of the village, to adjust and add the final touches to their costumes. When not impersonating animals or specific deities, the dancers are usually dressed in the following fashion: the women wear some variation of black, or sometimes white, wool mantas, which are rectangular shaped, sleeveless dresses fastened over one shoulder and reaching just below the knees. Depending on the season, they may wear colorful button-up shirts or dresses trimmed in lace under their mantas. Woven belts cinch their waistlines, and wooden headdresses ornamented with feathers ride their heads.
Lastly, each woman decorates herself with bracelets, necklaces, and rings of silver, turquoise, and red coral.
Male dancers wear white kilts held up by woven belts with long white fringe at the end. They frequently wear strings of bells or shells around their waists and across their chests and arm cuffs with sprigs of evergreens tied to their biceps. Knee-high moccasins cover their feet, and necklaces, rings, and bracelets of shell, turquoise, and silver adorn other parts of their bodies. If shirtless, the men, like the women, paint their bodies with white clay and paint designs of red clay on their faces. The men will often have feathers in their hair that bounce and float as they dance.
The music and steps are simple and rhythmic.10 Emphasizing the downbeat, the understated movements manifest as musically-accented walks. The active foot steps down and then bounces up with the rhythm as the weight is shuffled onto the other foot. As the arms of the dancers mirror the movement of the feet, they are held at ninety degrees...

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