Native American Dance Traditions

Rich and diverse cultural traditions among Native American peoples demonstrate a fascinating variation in spiritual traditions. Dance, as a part of those traditions, play an important role in their cultures. Remnants of these practices survive even today. Hearing rhythmic drum beats and encountering dancers in the regalia of headdresses, festooned with rooster feathers, are not uncommon in places such as Mexico City.

Prior to colonization by Europeans, many different peoples lived nomadic or pueblo dwelling lives in the southwestern regions of modern-day North America. Tribes of Apache and Hopi populated these territories and survived off the land. These tribes continue to practice their own forms of spiritually significant rituals that include dance traditions.

Apache Dance Tradition

These nomadic tribes of Indians are believed to have migrated south from Alaskan and Canadian territories to populate parts of the southwest. Apache dance ceremonies include the Mountain Spirit Dancers who personify supernatural beings. One character is variously called the White-Painted Woman or the Changing Woman. This figure gave birth to two sons, Killer of Enemies and Child Born of Water who rid the world of monsters making it a safe place for humans. The dancers perform this ritual at night adorned with elaborate headdresses and accompanied by singers and drummers.

Hopi Dance Tradition

Tribes of peaceable and deeply spiritual Hopi people were pueblo dwellers. The Hopi Way is one of reverential treatment of all things and seeking peace with them. One dance tradition associated with this tribe is the Snake Dance. The Hopi believe that snakes are messengers that carry their prayers to their ancestors and the gods. This ritual is performed by dancers with live snakes in their mouths. A two-week preparation is required prior to the dance being performed and concludes with the snakes being releasing in the four directions to carry their prayers.

History tells a bitter-sweet tale of the Indigenous tribes of the southwest. Conquest by colonial Europeans and subsequent life confined to reservations has been a difficult experience. Parts of their rich culture survive in the spiritual traditions of dance that serve as poignant examples of a proud heritage.

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