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Cherokee Dance

DANCES: Liiving with the Eastern Cherokees about 1887, 1888, Wm.Gilbert tells of the era, and what it had become at that time. "The next... social feature is the dance... some... have fallen into disuse. The following are dances known: Ant, Ball, Bear, Beaver, Buffalo, Bugah, Chicken, Coat, Corn, Eagle, Friendship, Green Corn, Ground Hog, Horse, Knee Deep, Medicine, Partridge, Pheasant, Pigeon, Raccoon, Round, Snake, War, and "Woman Gathering Wood"... "In most of the dances both men and women participate, but only men are allowed to lead and to do the singing for the dancers. A few dances are confined to one or the other sex.

"Most dances are led by a singer who has a drum or gourd rattle in his hand and who may or may not participate in the motions of the dance. The rank and file of the dancers, who follow the leader in a single file, may accompany the singing of their leader, or they may finish out his initial phrases, or they may reply in antiphony. A woman with tortoise-shell rattles fastened to her legs generally follows immediately after the leader and keeps time for his singing by shaking the rattles on her legs in rhythmic sequence.

"The musical instruments used in the dance consist of (1) a groundhog skin drum, (2) one or more gourd rattles on short sticks, and (3) several tortoise-shell rattles bound about the legs of the woman leader.
"Various ornamental and characteristic features are introduced in the dances, such as pine boughs, sticks, eagle-feather wands, pipes, masks, and robes of various kinds" (in the olden days).

"The dances are usually held at night. Certain dances are given early in the early part of the evening and others are relegated to the hours after midnight... The Friendship Dances may continue all night as may also the Ball dances. The general order of the evening dances is for a Bugah Dance to precede an Eagle Dance after which may come a Friendship Dance.

"...Somewhat after midnight, at about 2 o'clock in the morning, there commences another series of dances known as tendale Nuda or 'different dances'. These are also called uskwiniye'da or 'every kind' from the word for a general store. These dances generally run in about the following order: Coat, Ground Hog, Corn, Knee Deep, Buffalo, Ant, Quail, Chicken, Snake, Raccoon, Bear, Horse, and finally, the Round Dance after full daylight has come.

"Dances may be given in the daytime. The Green Corn Dance is given at any time during the day but is never ended until after dark. After a morning Round Dance... the new day may be started with another Eagle Dance or perhaps by a game of women's football.
"Some dances should be given only at certain seasons. In the recent past if the Eagle, Bugah, or Snake Dance were given in the summer, snake bite or cold weather would be sure to follow. The proper time for these dances is the frosty season from November to March. It is thought that the disappearance of the old-time conjurers may have something to do with the fact that these dances can now be given with impunity in the summer..."

"Although dances can, in the main, be held either out of doors or in the house, the majority are now held indoors...."

"The number of song accompaniments to a given dance may range from 1 to 14 but the average is about 4. A song consists of an individual melody sung with a series of more or less meaningless words or syllables, consisting of terms for obsolete towns and places, unintelligible onomatopoetic phrases, and the like. In the Friendship Dances considerable scope may be given to the improvising of syllables and melodies and in the course of several hours as many as 40 or 50 songs may be sung. In the main the syllables and the accompanying melodies seem to be somewhat stereotyped except that vowel quality of the syllables seems to vary in the numerous repetitions. The average duration of a single dance with its 4 songs and their repetitions may be from a quarter to a half an hour.

"A roughly alternate order of slow and fast melodies seems to be maintained, with the faster tempos seeming to predominate toward the end of the dance. The steps used in dancing do not vary perceptibly from dance to dance and consist of simple rhythmic walking steps in time with the drum or rattle. In fast time a sort of quick hopping motion develops. In the Bugah Dance any kind of a step may be allowed. Much dancing is done with the upper parts of the body, especially the arms, shoulder, and head.

"All kinds of conventionalized and naturalistic motions accompany the dances. Except in the cases of the Green Corn Dance and the Ball Dance, most of the dances have lost all significance in connection with outside activities or occurrences. True, hunting methods and habits of various animals are simulated as well as the movements of sowing seed and tillage of the soil. But these motions are incidental and apparently lost in a maze of other less explicable movements. The basic motif of the dances as they are at present performed seems to be the social one of a good time and making acquaintances.

"Clapping of the hands is a common feature of the Friendship Dances. This action expresses the joy and happiness being experienced by the participants. Bears are thought to clap their hands when pleased. The enjoyment of the dance was so great in the past that whenever some family had lost a member by death the rest of the neighbors would give a dance to make them forget their sorrow." (Gilbert, 257,8,9)

Timberlake, about 1762-5, writes: "The Inds. have a particular method of relieving the poor, which I shall rank among the most laudable of their religious ceremonies, most of the rest consisting purely in the vain ceremonies, and superstitious romances of their conjurors. When any of their people are hungry, as they term it, or in distress, orders are issued out by the headmen for a war-dance, at which all the fighting men and warriors assemble; but here, contrary to all their other dances, one only dances at a time, who, after hopping and capering for near a minute, with a tommahawke in his hand, gives a small whoop, at which signal the music stops till he relates the manner of taking his first scalp, and concludes his narration, by throwing on a large skin spread for that purpose, a string of wampum, piece of plate, wire, paint, lead, or any thing he can most conveniently spare; after which the music strikes up, and he proceeds in the same manner through all his warlike actions: then another takes his place, and the ceremony lasts till all the warriors and fighting men have related their exploits. The stock thus raised... is divided among the poor. The same ceremony is made use of to recompence any extraordinary merit. This is touching vanity in a tender part, and is an admirable method of making even imperfections conduce to the good of society." (Timberlake, 92,93)

"In the Friendship Dances the young people get acquainted. There is a great amount of teasing and joking of relatives occurring at these dances in particular. The young men will scratch the young girls' hands with their fingernails, slap them or feint blows at them, poke at them, or otherwise tease these familiar relatives. For the older people the word "Friendship" attaching to these dances, signifies the renewal of the pleasures of their youthful experiences in love and social intercourse.
"In the Eagle Dance and in the Friendship Dance the leader or principal performer can tell a story as he dances. He may perhaps recount his conquests over women or his acquiring of great wealth. He will never fail to get in some jibes at his joking relatives while he sings.

"The gotogwaski, or 'caller' is the organizer of a dance occasion and it is he who calls off the names of those who are to lead each song step. At the end of a song he shouts out words of encouragement and applause. He always endeavors to pick the best and strongest singers as leaders. The leader starts to walk around in a circle singing his song and followed at first only by one or two old men. Other men join the circle and then the woman with rattles on her legs and finally a vast number of girls, boys, men, and women are circling around at a faster and faster rate. After the song ends the whole group makes a wild dash for the door and fresh air.

"Since the dances of the Cherokees are of extreme importance in the social integration .. it will be in point to briefly mention the outstanding characteristics of the remembered dances, especially those whose social function seems more strikingly important than others.'

"The Ant Dance (daksu dali) consisted of a snakelike procession in single file, the participants moving about like a colony of ants. Both men and women participate but the men do all of the singing and the singing leader dances with a gourd rattle in his hand. The leader sings about the ants and says that their grandmothers are flying.

"The Ball Dance (dundje-la Nuni) is performed in two parts, one by the men and the other by the women. The men go to water both before and after a ball game. The men's dance consists of a procession of the players about the fire, racquet in hand, singing some four songs. The singing leader has a gourd rattle in his hand and dances at the head of the line. Simultaneously with the men's ball dance, or perhaps in its intermissions, the women give their dance. The details of this dance are very important and are worth considering at some length.

"The male singer seats himself facing the town which the team is to play against and takes his drum in his hands while the seven women dancers line up in a row behind him. Then, as the drummer begins to sing, the women dance forward and backward. Only the first and last songs are danced, the others consist in merely singing to the accompaniment of the leader. After each song the drummer will give some derogatory remarks about his familiar clansmen in the opponent town, saying that their town is bound to lose in the coming game. Then the women may likewise make up jokes about their clans-persons in the opponent town. After one drummer is tired, another will take his place and joke his fellow clansmen of his own clan in the opponent town. The magical rite concludes with the whole group "going to water" for certain lavations and purifications. This joking of the opponent town has the apparent effect of magically weakening the opponent town and causing them to lose the coming game. This is one of the most striking correlations of magical potency with relatives of familiarity imbedded in the kinship system to be found. Fuller reference to the possible significance of this rite in connection with other magical establishments of familiarity will be made in the discussion on integration and extension of social principles to magic and myth.

The Bear Dance (yo na)is an important dance given after midnight. Men and women both take part in this dance, which requires the use of gourd and tortoise-shell rattles. The general course is a spiral motion by a group in single file about the fire or pot or whatever can be made to serve as the center of revolution. Various obscene familiarities are indulged in between relatives in this dance, especially between the men and the women. The words of the songs refer to the bear's habits.

"The Beaver Dance (doya) is mimetic of the beaver hunt. Each dancer carries a small stick about 2 feet long, and this stick is flourished in various manners. The principal feature of this dance is an animal skin, meant to represent the beaver, which is pulled back and forth on a series of strings and which the dancers attempt to hit. Missing the skin affords immense amusement to the participants and spectators alike and this is consequently a favorite dance.

"The Buffalo Dance is hardly remembered. Masks and skins were said to have been used in this dance, which was mimetic of the hunt of buffalo.

"The Bugah Dance (Booger Dance) (tsunaguduli) is a masked dance of particular social significance. The name is of obscure origin but the actors in the dance are called Bogeys or sometimes Buggers. Considerable paraphernalia and preparation are necessary for this dance. From 6 to 12 masks made of gourd, wood, or pasteboard are collected beforehand in the neighborhood as well as 6 or 10 gourd rattles and a ground-hog skin drum. From all of the women present one man, the organizer, collects shawls, wraps, or sweaters to clothe the bogeys in.
"Six men seat themselves at one side of the room, a drummer of leader with five assistant music makers holding gourd rattles. These persons are known as dininogiski 'callers', whose function it is to sing and call the bogeys. When the callers have completed their sixth song, the bogeys enter one by one, concealed by masks and various wrap-around materials, and hobbling in various comical positions and with odd motions. They wear the strangest make-ups and endeavor to do everything in a topsy-turvy manner.

'There are seven of the bogeys and as the seventh song is played they dance in a circle about the room and endeavor to scare those children who are ungilisi or digiDuDu relatives to them. They also tease the grown-ups who are their familiar relatives. The relatives and spectators in the room enjoy this game of guessing which of their familiar relatives the teaser is.

"At the end of the seventh song the bogeys seat themselves in a comical fashion and with clumsy gestures on a log at one side of the room. The interpreter or organizer, meanwhile, is asked by the head caller to put some questions to the bogeys. The first question is generally, 'What is your name', or 'Where do you come from?' The interpreter then goes up to the first bogey and repeats this question to him. To this the bogey gives a whispered reply and the name he gives himself is always either ludicrous or obscene. He gives as his place of origin some remote or fanciful locality. He may joke a familiar relative in a neighboring town by giving his name. After the initial questions are over, the first bogey gets up ludicrously and clowns in a dance all his own. Duyring the dance the music maker or chief caller calls the name of the bogey over and over again and the bogey goes through motions and gestures appropriate to the name which he has given himself. The steps of this solo dance are utterly unlike any other Cherokee dance and consist of a series of heavy hops in rhythmic time. When the first bogey is through, the whole thing is gone over again with the next one and so on down the line.

"Following this the interpreter asks the bogeys to do a bear dance together. This is done and then the audience joins in with the bogeys. As the dance proceeds the bogeys tease their familiar relatives, especially the women, in obscene and ridiculous ways. After this dance the bogeys leave and go to some remote field where they remove their disguise and slip home without being recognized. After the bogeys are gone, the audience generally begins a friendship dance.

"The Bugah Dance is one of the most extremely used occasions for the display of the joking and privileged familiarity relationships between relatives. The bogeys may even tease and joke each other if they are in the correct relationship. The crazy movements of the Bugah solo dance may imitate everything except the motions of white peoples' dances. The bogeys themselves may imitate white people, negroes, or joking relatives.

"The next dance, the Chicken Dance, (sata'ga) has not been given for some time in Big Cove. The principal feature of this dance consisted of the woman resting one of her feet on the foot of her male partner in the dance, and hopping with the other foot. This dance was said to have been the cause of much jealousy and fights. The Chicken Dance is possibly mimetic of a bird habit.

"The Coat Dance (gasule'na) is apparently of little significance, now. In the older days the men were said to have bought their brides with buckskin coats as payment and in this dance some motions are made of covering or 'claiming' a woman with the coat.

"The Corn Dance (se'lu) is apparently mimetic of the actions of planting corn. The women were said to have done the planting and the men to have followed with the hoe to cover the seeds with earth. The term adan wisi 'they are going to plant corn' is possibly allied with the dance called 'Yontonwisas' by Mooney (1900, pp 365-367) and may be the Corn Dance.

"In the Corn Dance the men cup their hands as if they were pouring corn grains into the aprons of the women and then the women reciprocate in giving the corn to the men. Various other arm movements take place between the sexes in this dance.

"The Eagle Dance (tsugi'dali) is probably the most important and most revered of the Cherokee Dances. The eagles were said to have gathered together and teased each other just as men do in the Eagle Dance. The Eagle Dance used to be held in the fall or winter when the eagles were killed but now it is held at any time. In addition to the function as a celebration of the killing of an eagle, the Eagle Dance has several subordinate elements such as the Scalp Dance which celebrates victory in war (Mooney, p 496) and the Peace Pipe Dance which celebrates the conclusion of peace. The chief function of the Eagle Dance at the present time is the celebration of victory in the Ball Game.

"In its present-day performance, all of the elements of the Eagle Dance are somewhat mixed together. The Scalp Dance is a solo dance in which the young man can dance and tell his story, vaunting his bravery before the women or other men. He derogates the deeds of his clan brothers and joking relatives, saying that they are cowards and of no value to the nation. When the derogated relative's chance comes, he in turn derogates the former singer.

"The rather elaborate ceremonial involved in killing and propitiating the eagle which preceded the Eagle Dance has been described by Mooney. At present, dances can be given without killing an Eagle. There, are, in all probability, totemic values attaching to the Eagle.

"The Friendship Dances (di'sti) are a mixed assemblage of a large number of dances whose primary significance is shared in common, namely the social intercourse which is necessary for the young people in order that they may find husbands and wives among potential relatives.
"The familiarities of the Friendship Dances consist of such actions as the men placing their hats on the heads of their female partners, putting their coats around them, putting their arms around their shoulders and necks, and performing various overhand movements with them and others. These are the dances for getting acquainted and all of the motions of the dance are designed, or appear to be designed, to break down shyness and reserve on the part of the young people. This reserve is broken through, however, strictly along the line of the familiarity relationship with specific relatives. It is impossible, or in general improbable, that a young man will tease or joke with a women of his father's clan, or even of his own clan. On the other hand if he finds a 'grandmother' (gilisi) or a 'grandfather' (giDuDu, ginisi) he can tease them to the extreme. It is most likely that he will tease the women rather than the men as privileged familiarities between men are reserved for other occasions. At the dance a man must find a wife and there is only one way to find a wife and that is to select her out of the group of women with whom he can carry on relations of familiarity.

"The typical Friendship Dance begins with a few of the older men moving around in a circle about the room. The woman with the tortoise-shell rattles on her legs joins in the circle and then come the older women followed by the younger men and women. Round and round the circle goes, gradually picking up speed and volume as more join and none leave the magic ring of dancing humanity. Finally the crowd becomes too great for the one small room, the heat and sweat becomes too much, the dust too choking, and so with a final whoop all rush forth into the open air.

"Aside from certain features, such as a stygian smell of old tobacco permeating the air and the constant spitting, the Friendship Dance is one of the most fascinating features of Cherokee life. This dance holds a gripping power as great as any opera in our own society, for its drama and music are the prime expression of the socially significant facts of Cherokee existence. In the renewal of their old-time mating memories the older people find their chief consolation as age advances. In the sex glamor of the occasion the young people find their chief recreation. In the general cheerfulness of the atmosphere generated those who mourn for deceased relatives may find forgetfulness.

"The Green Corn Dance (agohundi) is an all-day dance which takes place in September after 'Roasting Ear's Time'. The name given to this dance refers to a town where, according to tradition, this dance was given especially well. This occasion has no direct connection with the Corn Dance, except that the latter celebrates the planting of the corn, while the Green Corn Dance celebrates the harvest.
"The Green Corn Dance is really a composite of several other dances. First, there is an all-day dance by the men in which guns are fired at intervals of half an hour to make the noise considered essential to this dance. Secondly, there are three evening dances -- a Grandmother Dance by the men, a Meal Dance by the women, and a Trail-Making Dance by both sexes.

"The all-day dance is the essential celebration of the completely successful harvest. The Grandmother and the Meal Dances are mimetic of the preparation of the corn meal by the women and grandmothers, and the Trail-Making Dance, as its name implies, mimics the activities of fixing up the trail for next year. After the dancing is over, a big feast is held in the evening, and everyone eats in great plenty of the fruits of the harvest.

"Now follow three dances of no great social importance. The Groundhog Dance (ogonu) is not of any great importance now. The motions of the dance are highly conventionalized and not significant. The Horse Dance (sogwili) is imitative of the marching and prancing movements of the horse. The dancers move slowly back and forth in a row, occasionally giving a kick as a horse will do. The Knee Deep Dance (dustu) is a short dance named after a little frog which appears in March is the time of the Spring known as 'Knee-deep time'.

"The Medicine Dance (egwa nuwati) appears to have virtually disappeared. It is of considerable significance, however, in connection with the familiarity relationship. This dance appears to have been held after the leaves had fallen into the streams in October. This mixture of the virtues of the leaves with the water caused the people to believe that the river was a gigantic medicine pot whose boiling was evinced in the eddying and foaming of the water. So this became "Great Medicine" time, the period in which life renewal and protection from all disease could be secured by bathing in the stream.

"A mixing of actual medicine in pots occurred at this time also. While the pot boiled all night, the women and men used to dance to keep awake, and then in the morning they went to bathe in the stream for purification. The long hours of the night used to be passed in joking each other's 'grandfathers' (digiDuDu) and 'grandmothers' (digilsi). This joking became the main feature of the dance. The women were said to have taken the initiative in joking the men at this dance. If the men were shy, the women would catch them and force them to dance.

"The Patridge or Quail Dance (k.gwe) is a dance somewhat resembling the Horse Dance and supposed to be initiative of the movements of the quail.

"Similarly of little importance, the Pheasant Dance (tadisti) has completely vanished but it is remembered that the drumming of the pheasant was imitated during the course of the dance (Mooney, 290)

"The Pigeon Dance (wayi) was an important dance in the past and numerous efforts are made to revive it from time to time. The actions seem to be mimetic of the stalking and capture of a flock of pigeons by a sparrowhawk. One strong man represents the hawk and he is painted red on the face, wears feathers, and is naked to the waist. He carries a buckskin in one hand and stands in a dark corner awaiting the line of dancers representing pigeons. As they pass him he swoops down and captures one with the buckskin. He then retires to his corner only to swoop down on another one and so on.

"The Raccoon Dance (kuli) is also lapsing. It was mimetic of the capture of the raccoon in the tree where he has taken refuge. Some of the motions of the dance indicate joking of the women by the men as in the Bear Dance. The men pretend to rub the grease of the raccoon on the women, the grease being an adorning feature.

"The Round Dance (ade'yohi) is a farewell dance which finishes an all-night series of different dances. It is said that this dance refers to the people having to go around the mountains in going home. The first half is a woman's dance but the men join in the second half.

SCALP DANCE: "This dance, common to every tribe east of the Rocky mountains, was held to celebrate the taking of fresh scalps from the enemy. The scalps, painted red on the fleshy side, decorated and stretched in small hoops attached to the ends of poles, were carried in the dance by the wives and sweethearts of the warriors, while in the pauses of the song each warrior in turn recited his exploits in minute detail. Among the Cherokee it was customary for the warrior as he
stepped into the center of the circle to suggest to the drummer an improvised song which summed up in one or two words his own part in the encounter. A new 'war name' was frequently assumed after the dance... " (Mooney, Myths, 496)

"The Snakelike Dance (inadiyusti) consists of spiralings by the line of dancers about the fire.

"The War Dance (daNowehi)has not been given for a long time. It was said to have consisted of various military deployments backward and forward and about the fire, all imitative of the scouting and engagement of actual warfare. There was a magical significance attaching to this dance since it determined which warrior would come back safely of those who went to war.

"The Woman Gathering Wood Dance (adohuna) was once regarded as preliminary to all the other dances. It is apparently mimetic of, or at least connected with, the women's gathering wood to feed the fire. The movements are mostly back and forth movements by a row of women, the men taking no part.

"This list concludes the series of dances known in the village of Big Cove. In this area the old-time methods of dancing have been remembered and carried on the longest, by universal testimony.

Nevertheless, a considerable interest in dancing and periodic indulgence in the characteristic Cherokee dances was found at Birdtown. Several additional dances are known in Birdtown which seem to be lacking in Big Cove. These are: The Witch Dance (skili), in which the performers imitate goggles on their eyes with the use of their fingers; The Gagoyhi Dance (curled up, or twisted), whose evolutions resemble the Ant Dance; and the Parched Corn Dance (gawicida iteu), which was an additional part of the Green Corn Dance.

William K. Powers, author of "Here Is Your Hobby Indian Dancing and Costumes": writes of the current "Powwow" scene: "Many dances are held in conjunction with rodeos and state fairs. ...But these dances are strictly for show. They give Inds. an opportunity to travel and meet dancers from other tribes, but they little resemble a true Ind. celebration.
"Between performances, Inds. spend their leisure time visiting each other's campsites, trading, and swapping songs. Song swapping is a favorite pastime.

"At night, when the shows are over and the spectators have left the grandstand, the Inds. gather in the empty stadium or fairgrounds and dance for their own amusement. Here the fancy "show" dancing gives way to the round dances, rabbit dances, forty-nines, the partner dances... Costumes are replaced with western-style clothing. Except for the strange patterns of dancing and the exotic sounds of the drum and singers, the dancers might be taking part in an old-fashioned square dance. These informal dances begin in the darkness of the night, and they hardly ever end before the sun comes up." (Powers, 13).

"In the Southwest, a Navajo sings to the rhythm of his horse's hoofs as he rides along. At home, his wife sings a soft lullaby to her son. In the Pueblo villages nearby, a silversmith fashions age-old designs in silver as his hammer taps out the rhythm of the song he sings. ...In the north woods, a Chippewa sings as sacred song as he prays to Gitche Manito. In the olden days, a Sioux sang a death chant as he rode into battle"
"The Ind. courts his woman with a love song, cures his sick with a medicine song, and names his children with an honor song. He never ceases to sing whether happy or sad, young or old, well or ailing. From birth to death, the Ind. sings.

"Indians can sing without dancing, but they cannot dance until they hear an appropriate song. ...To the Ind. singing is as much a part of the dance as are the dancer's moccasins and bells. For every dance, there is an appropriate song. No dancer can move while the singers are idle. It is the voices of the men and women that makes the dancers want to dance. The dancers hear a good song, and their feet are forced to move. The singers actually control the dancers." (Powers, 17)

"Their several dances were accompanied by music appropriate for the occasion. At the war dance a warlike tune was sung telling "how they will kill, roast, scalp, beat and make Captive, such and such numbers of them, and how many they have destroy'd before. At the peace dances the song related that the Bad Spirit made them go to war and that it should never do so again, but that their sons and daughters should intermarry with the former enemies and the two nations should love one another and become as one people. When the harvest had ended and before spring planting, there were the corn dances (the one to return thanks to the Good Spirit for the Fruits of the Earth, and other to beg the same blessings for the succeeding year". (Rights, 257)

POWERS, WILLIAM K. "Here Is Your Hobby: Indian Dancing and Costumes". G. P. Putnam's Sons, NY 1966. This book tells you, with illustrations, about the basicdances, and dance steps. It is basic, but thorough. Goes into Posture; Head Movements; Shoulder and Torso Movements; Hands, and Style. The costumes are straight out of Hollywood, but that's what they are wearing today on the "circuit". Yuk!