Creek & Seminole Dances to Test Skills, Teach Values, and Just Have Fun
Written by Ghost Dancer
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.
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.
Ghost dancer, July 2017 ©
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