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WORDS: Dance & Movement - Native Style

There are many thoughts that come to mind when I think of dance. In my mind’s eye I see a group of people dancing to the throbbing beat of electronic music. Upon further consideration, there are some many forms of dance. These include ballet, belly dancing, the waltz, the Charleston, square dancing and maybe even twerking. We may know “how” people dance but it would be worth exploring “why”.

Dance as a form of leisure or entertainment seems the most obvious reason why people dance. Groups of people inhibit dance floors all over the world. For me, this is the ultimate form of public self-expression. There is no need to be embarrassed because everyone else is doing his or her interpretation of the beats and rhythms of the same music. Why would those at the club decide to do this in public when they could easily do it in their own living rooms? Like experiencing a movie in the local movieplex, there is something profoundly special about sharing a unique event with a group of strangers. Where else in our lives are we able to be ourselves and separate while still belonging to the whole?

Another reason why people like dance is not necessarily to “do” the dance. How about dance as a spectator? Movie houses and Broadway shows are examples where people can go to see narrative stories portrayed on screen or on the stage. Watching a live musical or a ballet performance offers audiences an experience beyond live theater. Stage plays rely on setting, performance and dialogue to help tell the story. Musicals and ballets utilize dance as a way to help convey and interpret the narrative or a feeling to the audience. Dance artists are able to use movements of body and feet in the way an actor utilizes their craft.

In the United States and Canada, there are some Indigenous cultures that use dance as a form of self-expression in front of audiences. “Pow wows” are the most contemporary and popular venue to experience Native dance. During the warm summer months, Native dancers dress in their handmade traditional regalia. As the live drumbeats and singing fill the air, these dancers compete against one another. It is through their personal interpretation of the music that set them apart from one another. The audiences tend to be non-Native people who are interested in experiencing these live dance shows. At the pow wows, visitors can also purchase jewelry and crafts from local vendors as well as nosh on Native foods like frybread tacos and corn soup.

Ceremony or ritual is another reason to dance beyond self-expression or spectatorship. In the broadest sense, I feel that military march routines are a form of ritual dance. I also think standing in a line at the bank is a form of dance as well. In terms of ceremony, I can only relate dance to my own Indigenous culture. During certain ceremonies, we dance as a way of pleasing the Creator. Sometimes we do have social dancing where the community gets together and dances. In both instances, we get a profound feeling of tradition. Our ancestors have been doing these dances since time immemorial and our future generations will continue our ceremonial and social dances long after we are gone.

In summary, I feel I have only scratched the surface in regards to dance and movement. How do I apply the idea of dance and movement to myself? Although I don’t frequent dance clubs, I do dance around within the confines and the sanctuary of my own apartment. It’s a good thing that I my floors are concrete and I live on the ground level. In public, I feel that we all express our own form of dance by our conduct. If we are having a good day, our body language will show it through the spring of our steps or how we hold our heads up in confidence. For me, I am Haudenosaunee with a strong sense of who I am. I only hope that my body language (or dance) exudes that to others in public.

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