The Shawl And The Butterfly
The wildflower and the sky court the butterfly,
The butterflies are rainbows with wings.
This past weekend, our little town's history society held a fund-raiser at the community center. The activities included Buffalo burgers, bingo and old-fashioned tunes played by local musicians. The highlight was a group of young Native American dancers from nearby Rapid City, South Dakota: the Woyatan Wacipi Dance & Drum group. The adults who brought them over were relatives and friends. The men sang, played the drum and explained the history of the various dances that the children would perform. Nora White Eagle explained to me that the kids help make their beautiful costumes. One of the boys was not a Native American and I had to ask about him. He is a friend of one of the other boys and he really wanted to be a dancer. I noticed that his costume colors are significant: blue and gold were the colors of the U.S. Cavalry. The group is shown below.
Before the performance, everyone stood while our Native American friends sang the National Anthem in the language of Lakota Sioux.
This is where we go on a little detour before I get to my favorite part ... the dancing butterflies. I was so taken by the beauty of the dancing and the stories behind the dances. I can still hear the beat of the drum. This part of the country is the land of the Sioux. If you've ever taken a trip out west, you might have witnessed a gathering of Native Americans, the Pow Wow, the music and the various dances. If you're planning a visit out this'a'way, your vacation experience really ought to include seeing such a spectacular event. It will make the old west come alive for you like nothing else! Until then, enjoy a mini-journey. Here we go, look at where the Black Hills of western South Dakota wanders into the northeastern corner of Wyoming on the map below.
Pictures are worth a thousands words, so begins our journey ... not back through time, but rather, up through time to now.
From the beginning, Native Americans were accurately portrayed as a people with an artistic, spiritual nature. A deep and respectful affection for all of Creation, the Creator and Mother Earth is not just part of their culture, it is their culture. Native American art, music and stories are full of teaching and wisdom about the circle of life ... life lessons. For an easy listening backdrop to read the rest of this article by, right click on the below link and then click on 'open to a new tab'. The "Morning Song" is performed by Cherokee singers. The music is accompanied by a rich side-dish of vintage photos of Native Americans. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VqoxOcEqpk&feature=related
Some of you are no doubt familiar with the "Chicken Dance". Parties and weddings are often where it breaks out. Native Americans have their own version.
The "Chicken Dance" mimics the strutting courtship dance of the male Sharp Tailed Grouse (commonly known as the Prairie Chicken), hence the feather bustle on the Chicken dancer's costume. Visit YouTube and enjoy this short, well done video about The Prairie Chicken and the dance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7QBAqjyi5k&feature=related .
Some believe that the "Grass Dance" came from young boys tying grass on
their outfits. Before a dance could be held on the prairie, the grass had to be stomped down. Afterward, the boys would tie clumps of grass to themselves and play dance. Many believe that the Omaha tribe originated the dance. Still photos cannot, cannot do justice to Native Americans dancing. You've got to see the dance performed, hear the drums, the bells and the singing ... feeling it from the inside out ... courtesy of YouTube. The Grass Dance is my favorite of the male dances: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WD2qXI267as&feature=related
Below: The Grass Dance performed in the grass ...
The brightest and fastest of dance styles for Indian men is the "Fancy Dance" or "Feather Dance". The outfit combines feather bustles of traditional costumes, but with more accessories: feathers, fluff, ribbons etc. The Fancy Dance has typically been a young man's dance, although many older dancers who are still in shape participate. The Fancy Dance is much faster and flamboyant than all other styles, and it is sometimes freestyle, with dancers doing wild things such as flips. Fancy dancers also include the "ruffle" -- it is full of shaking, ruffling, and blinding footwork. Spectacular, to say the least! See it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqE-tZNo-jc&feature=related . Now, imagine a field of a dozen men dancing like that. It is a riot of color and movement.
Now it is time for the ladies, young and old alike. Here below is a beautiful little butterfly who danced for us ...
The Butterfly Dance is as breath-taking as the men doing their Fancy Dance. The Indian women have a style that only females can impart ... carefully executed steps, gentle dignity and flashy grace (in the case of the Shawl Dance). Native American women of every age dance. They learn young and enjoy dancing into old age. As in so many other pursuits, youth is more exuberant, energetic and bold. Age brings visible wisdom, a steady rhythm and serene confidence to the art of the dance.
Take a look at these YouTube videos: Women performing a combination of dance styles. Notice the meticulous choreography. Dancers in the video are wearing several different styles of costumes that represent a variety of dances. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTXZTrC0ACc&feature=related
This photo/music video is a beautifully composed piece that features historic photos of Indian women: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5VPz33V7bU&feature=related
The "Fancy Shawl Dance" is a representation of The Legend of the Butterfly Dancer.
The story goes like this ... Many, many years ago when the Earth was still quite new, there was a beautiful butterfly who lost her mate in battle. To show her grief, she removed her beautiful wings and wrapped herself in a drab cocoon. In her sadness, she could not eat or sleep and her relatives kept coming to her lodge to check on her.
She was lost in heartbroken despair, but she didn't want to be a burden on her people so she packed up her wings and her medicine bundle and went on a long journey. She wandered about for many months, until finally she had gone all around the world. (To this day, butterflies go on long journeys, but that is another story.)
On her journey she kept her eyes downcast and stepped on each stone she came to as she crossed fields and streams. Finally, one day as she was looking down, she happened to notice the stone beneath her feet. It was so beautiful that it healed her sorrowing heart.
She then cast aside her cocoon of grief, shook the dust from her wings, and donned them once more. She was so happy she began to dance to give thanks for another chance to begin a new life. She went home and told "The People" about her long journey and how she had been healed.
To this day, "The People" dance this dance as an expression of renewal, and to give thanks for new seasons, new life, and new beginnings.
The shawl in the Fancy Shawl Dance represents butterfly wings. The lightness of the dance steps and twirls represent the butterfly's style of flight ... joyful fluttering as if from flower to flower. This is another reason you will sometimes hear the Fancy Shawl Dance referred to as "The Butterfly Dance." Dance competitions are very popular at Native American gatherings. Their beaded buckskin costumes and accessories are nothing short of remarkable. The dancers are covered from head to foot with colorful, lavish embellishment. THE SHAWL DANCE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gz8Nz69cDE&feature=related
"The People". Today the human circle is large ... much larger. We now call Earth a global community. Sadly, The people of this world continue to "redistribute" wealth and natural resources by force. The War Drums play loudly on the news. All Native Americans (those born here) and those Americans "by choice" (naturalized, legal citizens), have for generations proven their love for this country by serving and sometimes dying for a land known worldwide as a place for free people, THE land of the free. Native American Indians were this country's first patriots and fought that fight first. They sought only to protect and defend a place to raise their children, a safe place to teach them the dance of Life. People of peace long for a time when a circle dance will include people of all races and nations. Here are Cherokee voices singing a very old song of hope for mankind: "Amazing Grace" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvYIjFtPQEk&feature=related
*(That would be me in the top right photo).
Hey, have you heard "New Age" Native music?? Below is a sampling of the band, Brule`. I have 2 of their CDs (great music for driving). The ancient rhythm of drums, traditional messages and instruments blends beautifully with freshly composed music. Brule` CDs are available at www.brulerecords.com. I'll include a few YouTube links to give you a taste. Enjoy!
Brule` - "Sacred Praises" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbjWn0EUcn4&feature=related
Brule` - "Dream Shield" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCZtSbBM3Ng
"Let us walk softly with all living beings great and small, remembering as we go, that the One God, kind and wise created all." ~ Native Blessing