Native American Dances Activities for Kids
The Native Americans in western Washington and British Columbia (Canada) have another occasion for dancing, which is the potlach.
Dance is one of the most beautiful parts of Native American culture. Generations of Native Americans have developed a variety of dances for many different kinds of occasions. PowWows.com has compiled a list of Native American dances, complete with descriptions of their histories and more.
Native American (“First Nation,” or “First People”) dance is a very special art. Many dances are performed for family events, such as weddings and birthdays. Some dances are performed for fun, others to help the harvest, and some for religious ceremonies. Here are some examples of the dances in various regions of North America.
The Arctic peoples (Alaska and Canada) have many dance songs included in their ceremonies. The best known dance song for western Arctic peoples is drum dancing. It is usually performed at a festival honoring deceased relatives. People from neighboring towns are invited. Dancers wear costumes and masks, and the hosts give gifts to the guests. When it is time to dance, many drummers stand or sit in a half circle and sing and play their drums. Men and women dance in a half circle in front of them to the music, using their arms and upper bodies to show their feelings.
The Native Americans in western Washington and British Columbia (Canada) have another occasion for dancing, which is the potlach. A potlatch is a community gathering to honor the host or to celebrate family events, such as births and marriages. A dance called Spirit Dancing is performed at potlatch festivals every year. Young men or women “catch” a guardian spirit, sometimes as if in a dream. The young people create their own song and dance to show the spirits of their guardians. New dancers choose costumes and paint their faces before they perform. Other young people who performed their dances in earlier years perform their dance again. Any close relative who remembers the dances from the year before also joins in the dance. Sometimes dancers will take on an animal spirit for a dance with the help of elaborate costumes that help them appear like a raven, a bear, or another animal of their choice. Gifts are given to visitors to thank them for coming and to ask them to remember the new dances for next year.
Native American Dances for Kids
Native American dance styles are diverse, with regional variations. The most common genre of social Native American dancing is found at powwows. Powwows evolved over the last hundred or so years when Native people increasingly relocated and intermingled in urban settings. There are numerous types of powwow dancing, and anyone can learn, young or old. Each style has a corresponding style of outfit worn. The best way to learn is by observing.
There are three general styles of female dances: traditional (buckskin and cloth in both northern and southern styles); jingle dress
dancing; and fancy shawl. Women’s traditional dancing is graceful, and the regalia incorporate elaborate beadwork and handheld feather fans. Jingle dress style is worn for “medicine” dances; the dresses are decorated with dozens of cone-shaped tins that “jingle” when the dancer moves. Fancy shawl dancing is akin to aerobics; it is fast and is said to symbolize the beauty of a butterfly.
Like female dance styles, male styles are generally either traditional or fancy (in northern and southern types), but there are more specific forms. Traditional styles include southern straight, characterized by beaver skin hats, and northern traditional, with single eagle feather bustles. Fancy styles are known simply as “fancy” (known for the elegant eagle feather bustles worn at the hips and shoulders) and “grass” dancing, with its distinctive footwork and ribbon-adorned outfits.
Powwows are about more than just dance styles and forms. Powwows are social gatherings that often involve ceremonial functions to honor individuals or families, and there is a definite etiquette and set of protocols to follow, as they are cultural events. It’s possible to learn from a video, and the Internet is full of excellent video examples of powwow dancing that kids can learn from. Other sources of information include Native American cultural centers such as the All Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.