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Creek & Seminole Dances to Test Skills, Teach Values, and Just Have Fun

Creek & Seminole Dances to Test Skills, Teach Values, and Just Have Fun

 

Written by Ghost Dancer

SNEAK-UP DANCE

Many of you know how skilled Indians were at sneaking up on our prey or enemies. Did you know we have dances for that too? Well we do. They are called just that, Sneak-up Dance. Now in the old, old days these were highly creative tests of athletic abilities, flexibility, balance and rhythm. The dancers prepared themselves in various styles and techniques of camouflage to blend in for the dance. These Sneak-up Dances were always conducted by the war clans. Rattles signaled the time to begin the dance. Then silence. The drummers took their sticks and started tapping on the edge of the drum like a woodpecker, going faster and faster. The dancers began moving, twisting, and bending in perfect time to the drum. Then the lead drummer hit the center of the drum and all the drummers began playing and singing the Sneak-up Song. They kept a steady fast rhythm and the dancer’s feet had to make every single beat. Then suddenly, the sound stopped.

Every dancer had better be in rhythm, foot down and frozen in place or he was judged out and must leave the dance. In real life, when sneaking up in many situations, you must freeze. No matter what. So, this is what each dancer strived to do. Now, the only one who knows when the drum will stop is the lead drummer and he signals to the other drummers when to follow him.  This applies to all songs and dances.

The lead drummer is usually the lead singer as well. Winning this dance was very important back then because these skills were highly desired by all. Going from a dance of frenzy to a sudden stop with no warning, and being so sensitive to the drum that you are prepared for anything; that takes skill. This continued until everyone was eliminated except one.

A SNEAK-UP DANCE is still played, though a little differently now days. It’s a Native version of a chair game that has been popular with many people for years. I would recommend this dance to everyone learning to properly dance in rhythm with drum. It is fun for all ages and teaches lots of balance and skills. Chairs are set up in a circle in the center of the area with one less chair than there are dancers. A good idea is to alternate female and male, young and old. When the drum begins everyone dances around the chairs; when the drum stops they must sit in a chair. The first in the chair wins the seat. The person left without a chair is eliminated.  (No, two cannot sit in the same chair even though that happens often.) Then one chair is removed and the dance resumes.

This Sneak-up Dance is a game of laughter and fun and breaks the ice at any gathering. Everyone loves this game once they have tried it and prizes are always offered to the winner of any dance. It should be remembered that it isn’t just about prizes so much as having fun and laughing. There is more honor gained in letting the other person win in a game like this especially when it involves an elder or a child.

TURNABOUT DANCES

The next two dances are balance and comedy dances. The first is when females all take their shawls and pick out any male they choose by running their shawl over them. The woman gives a man her shawl to dance as they do in a woman’s Shawl Dance. And yes, the males must accept the challenge and do the best they can. Now the male must dance as a butterfly and mimic the way the ladies do their dance. Surprisingly some men can do this very well, while others…well they are more like a bear in a lean-to filled with pottery.

While the men are doing this very fast dance, they are being judged by the clan mothers to make sure they are putting their best efforts into it. The dancers are funny to watch and they are constantly being encouraged by all the ladies giving them advice and on how to do certain things. Naturally, the kids are having fun too and the men’s buddies and elders are laughing and telling them how pretty they are. Now during this time, any woman has the right to take her shawl and place it on one of the hecklers to take the man’s place if she feels like it. This really turns the tables on him. See, this dance is designed to lighten the heart and take away any burdens or pains. Laughter is a great healer of anything and this dance brings balance to the male’s ego.

In the second part of this dance, the order is now reversed. Now the good thing about this is the guys get to pick out the woman he wants to dance as a man. He gives her his headdress, breechcloth, and dance stick or feathers.  And yes, she is required to accept just as the males were. Now the roles are reversed and all the women who have been chosen must dance with enthusiasm and as the males do. Naturally all the other women spectators are jeering, hooting and trilling at them, while the men are all giving them advice. But just as in the other dance, a man may take his items away from the woman and give them to her biggest heckler. Now she must carry on the dance.

All the kids love these dances and they are learning that everyone is equal; that none are better than anyone else, and no male or female is ever to be discriminated against because of their gender. And that is how Native children learn we all must be balanced and men and women must always have that balance inside of them.

Traditionally, these were regulars at all dances. Now days very little of this is done if at all.

 

Respectfully, Ghost                                                                 

Ghost dancer, July 2017 ©

 

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

9 Comments

  1. wqhiteoak43@gmail.com'

    Richard, What type of Drum does ‘Ghost’ suggest was used in these old, old dances, especially the Sneak-up dance?

    Reply
    • The primary Creek drum is still used in Central America and the Amazon. It was made from a hollowed log and was about three to four feet tall. Basically, it is the ancestor of the conga drum. Some members of POOF are making these types of drums in order to authentically portray our heritage. They are made the same way as a hollow log “pow wow” drum but much taller and narrower. Here is the same type of drum from Guatemala – https://a.1stdibscdn.com/archivesE/upload/9525/08_13/guatemalan_drum_1/XXX_GUATEMALAN_DRUM_1.jpg

      Reply
  2. playclay2013@yahoo.com'

    These are wonderful learning traditions….. from a professional public recreation viewpoint , these dances are quickly recognized as top notch community building activities teaching multiple physical skills and positive life lessons. These dances could / should be taught at Parks & Recreation training seminars.

    Reply
    • wrdwevr@comcast.net'

      Yes, I agree these dances are wonderful learning traditions and they could easily be adapted in community activities to honor the cultural heritage of our Southeastern Native peoples.

      Reply
  3. theoldlibrary19@yahoo.co.uk'

    These dances sound spectacular and very energetic and with meaning. It so happens that the drums have always been my favourite instrument because they give out the necessary beat. When I was younger I once one a prize for jiving with my partner to just the beat of the drums. But I guess even that was not so energetic as these dancers.

    Reply
    • Now I know why you are my favorite archaeologist on the island of Crete! I am also professional percussionist and have a cabin full of hand-made percussion instruments from around the world.

      Reply
      • Talia6909@aol.com'

        Thank you for all the info!
        Festival is coming soon in Florida, and this could be fun! I would love to watch these dances happen.
        Thank you for sharing the traditional dances!
        Barb
        P.S. You are always invited

        Reply
        • wrdwevr@comcast.net'

          Barb, Can you share which Festival in Florida you speak of. Ghost Dancer is happy to learn about the responses from people who see the potential in these old dances for programs teaching or celebrating SE Native traditions. He asked if you would share photos you do use them in the Festival. Thank you!

          Reply
  4. shasherrysharon@gmail.com'

    I would also, like the date of the Florida Festival.
    About 1908, or so, my Grandfather, “Charlie”, Charles Middleton Sowell, was selected to dance the “Busk” for his
    tribal celebration. The village no longer exists, it is part of a National Park; but, the nearest town is Abbeville, AL. That also appears as birthplace–which is wrong. They were Creek. His mother was a Cobb, and his grandmother a
    Rhea, Rea, Ray, probably McRhea from Ireland. Ancestor was in Rev. War, as was Cobb, also from Ireland.
    Believe his father, Abijah Sowell, was also part Indian.
    He was picked because he was a young, unmarried man, of good character. He married my grandmother in 1910.
    She wanted no mention of anything Indian. Her family was English, primarily, Rev. war in VA, then Carolinas, and GA.
    Her Reynolds family came to FL panhandle after Civil War.
    Would love to hear from relatives. Wiki Tree, a free site is a good research spot.

    Regards,
    Sharon

    Reply

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