Circle of Dance By Cécile R. Ganteaume, Curator, NMAI
O’siyo. The Native Museum of the American Indian located in New York (NMAI) is featuring the Circle of Dance exhibition which began October 6, 2012 and will continue through October 8, 2017. Dance has been an ongoing cultural expression within Native tribes for years. In addition to cultural significance, each tribe has its own unique regalia. Everyone should experience this wonderful exhibition. Below are examples of the beautiful dance regalia worn by different tribes.
“The ancient Maya maize god was a god of dance. In the exquisite, first century BC murals at San Bartolo, Guatemala, the maize god is depicted emerging into the world, dancing and playing a turtle shell drum worn on his chest. After his mythic journey to the underworld, the maize god dances back to life between the rain spirit, Chahk, and the spirit of standing water.
According to Maya scholar Karl Taube, this mural is one of the earliest known portrayals of Mesoamerican dance. As Taube explains, dance is a common theme in both pre-Classic and Classic Maya art.
In Maya thought, maize foliage and green quetzal plumes are symbolically linked. The Maya, however, were not the only society to connect dance with the bringing of rain and maize. Associating dance with life-generating forces and deities is a widespread and ongoing tradition in the Americas.
To this day unique forms of ritual, ceremonial, and social dancing maintain a vital place in contemporary community life. Everywhere dance is found, it is accompanied by distinctive Native musical styles. Rich music and dance traditions create strong ties that bind American Indian communities to all living things, the earth, the spiritual world, and to each other. When people have deep ancestral claims to their dances, the traditions also bind communities to the past.
Even when songs and dances are borrowed from neighboring groups, or when ritual dances combine Christian and indigenous beliefs, music and dance play a central role in people’s lives. Indigenous ceremonial dances are dynamic events that allow Native peoples to maintain old ways and introduce new ones while expressing and celebrating their strongly felt tribal, village, clan, society, and individual identities.
Circle of Dance presents ten social and ceremonial dances from throughout the Americas. In all but two cases, the dances are described by Native community members. Each of the dances embodies an awareness of a greater cosmic order and, often, the importance of reciprocal relationships in maintaining that order. In other words, life-sustaining concepts are embedded in the dances.”
Visit the MNAI to see this beautiful exhibit and to learn more about Natives and the world of dance.
“Native American dance is unlike most other dances in the world. It is not only a way to have fun, but spiritual in itself. Dance can be a form of prayer, a way of expressing joy or grief, and a method of becoming closer with man and nature. Native dancing has been around just about as long as the Native American people have been: in ceremony, powwows, and just to pass the day/night.”~ani-kutani~
There are many legends about how the Indians learned about the Talking Feather/Talking Stick. Here is one of them…
Long years ago, when gods walked this earth and the land beyond, Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei, were together enjoying the warm summer day. It was a day when the crickets chirrupted in the waving, green grass,when they noticed a figure moving towards them.
As the figure approached closer Kanati said “Look, that woman is crying, what could be the matter?” “I can not imagine why anyone would cry on such a glorious day.” Replied Asgaya Gigagei. “Let’s ask her.”
As the woman drew nearer, they could see her buckskin was decorated with beautiful designs and colors. She carried a bundle filled with leaves, sage, and colorful stones and feathers. They knew immediately this woman was a holy being.
Kanati asked her “Holy mother, why are you crying so?” The woman looked up in wonder, because she had been walking with her head down. “I’m crying because the men of my village are fighting constantly! Each thinks his ideas for leading the tribe is the best!” Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei glanced at one another, in perplexity. “Why, if there are so many good ideas for leading your tribe, why are the men fighting? And why aren’t you and the other members happy!” The poor woman shook her head sadly and replied, “Yes, you are right, the men do have very good ideas, but every man wants to speak his own ideas, and not listen to anyone else. They all shout and scream at one another so loudly, that it frightens the children who run and hide behind their mothers. The women are sad because their husbands come to the house upset and angry. Furthermore, the tribe is suffering, because no one can seem to make a decision.” Just then a beautiful Eagle was soaring overhead, Kanati called out “Brother Eagle, may I have one of your feathers, there are poor humans in desperate need!”
Bother Eagle replied “Yes” and shook himself until a single iridescent, large feather fell to the ground. “Many thanks and Blessings on you” said Kanati. Kanati made secret signs and prayers over the Feather. Asgaya Gigagei helped him with the blessings. Kanati then said to the woman “This is the sacred Talking Father, it holds great power for the one who holds it. Go back to your people, hold this feather up in the air, all who see it will fall silent, and listen to what you have to say. Tell all who listen that from now on, who ever holds this feather, all present within the Circle Council must listen to his words. The feather must then be passed on to the next speaker.”
The woman thanked Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei and hurried back to her village where there was total chaos!. Everyone was talking at once, children were crying, men were screaming at each other. As soon as she held the feather over her head, all became quiet! No one could utter a sound! the holy woman proceeded to give the directions given to her by the gods. She then passed the feather to the first man. He called the Talking Circle together, and each man had his say as he held the feather. From that time on that tribe flourished because they now had direction, and each person could hear and understand what their peers said. The people worked together, to build a great nation. Along the way, they shared the wonders of the Talking Feather with other tribes they met. “And that my friends is the true story of how the Talking Feather came to be!”