The Original American Dance

By Djinn Shockley

If you ask most modern Americans about dance, their initial thoughts probably come in the form of the television show "Dancing with the Stars" or the local club scene. However, if you ask a Native American the same question, their thoughts will flow towards the rich history of dance in the tradition of the people, their people.

The American Indian culture is rich in rhythmic, soul-enriching dance. The indigenous culture of North American spent thousands of years dancing and enacting the vitality of life itself. They utilize dance as a tool for storytelling, prayer and celebration, with each generation passing down the history of the last through tribal dance.

The Native Americans share a special harmonious connection with mother earth. They also shared the ancient belief that everything and everyone were connected, thus their dances usually incorporated a circle formation. The thunderous pounding of handmade drums was the heartbeat of the dance and melodic flutes accompanied their beating. Young warriors once returned from battle or a hunt and acted out their accomplishments and experiences for the tribe with detailed dances. The more warriors that participated, the more their stories unfolded for their tribe.

One of the most known Native dances is The Sun Dance, which was once outlawed in the United States because our government saw it as self-mutilation. However, the Sun Dance is a traditional religious ceremony for the tribal people that signifies a youth becoming a warrior and was originally restricted to the males of the tribe. In some tribal circles the dance also paid homage to the buffalo that supported every aspect of native survival including food, shelter and clothing. The young warriors celebrate this dance by undergoing painful, ritual piercings using eagle talons to gain strength and endurance. The dance entailed traditional drums, the sacred pipe, tobacco offerings, praying and fasting. The Great Mystery receives the sacrifice of flesh while prayers are given to the Tree of Life in direct connection to the Grandfather, aka the Creator.

The Hoop Dance is a beautiful Native dance where shapes are formed like the butterfly, the eagle, the snake and the coyote with the hoops symbolizing the never ending circle of life. The dance itself involves swift gestures and the movement and construction of hoops around the body. The hoops are made to interlock so they extend from the bodies of the dancers to form appendages representing the animals like wings and tails. The hoops themselves are handmade and decorated with colorful tapes and ribbons.

You can see examples of the Hoop Dance here:


There are many other beautiful dances done by the Native American people. The dancers also design their own costumes for these ceremonies often involving elaborate head dresses and feathered apparel. Each tribe has their own version of the traditional dances like the Feather Dance, Rain Dance, Ghost Dance etc.

The Feather Dance:

The Lakota, Sioux, Cherokee, Cheyenne, and other tribes keep their traditions alive in song and dance. Today these celebrations still happen on reservations and at gatherings like tribal Pow Wows. There are several events in Kentucky yearly where one can witness firsthand the incredible energy and traditional dance of the original Americans. If an opportunity arrives for you to witness one of the amazing native dances, you should definitely check it out.

Upcoming Events:

Sept. 1 & 2 The Native American Heritage Museum Pow Wow at Phillips Farm. 4116 Cumberland Falls Highway , Corbin, Kentucky.

Sept. 8 Visceral at Lisa's Oak Street Lounge

Sept. 29 the BBQ Afterpary with Gatsby featuring Them Bumping Betties and Freaking Freak Machine at Shandies, 202 Broadway, Paducah/

Oct. 20 and 21 The Native Dawn Pow Wow at 123 Township Square in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.