When we think of tribal dancing, rain dancing comes to mind first. After all, television has depicted this ceremonial dance for decades. We see a chief in a large headdress leading the ceremony, tapping his mouth and frolicking in circles. In reality, the rain dance is very serious, and has been used for years by Native American tribes.
A rain dance is defined as a ceremonial dance used to provoke rain and ensure harvest protection. Because we’re still concerned about rainfall today, the dance is still performed. It is unique for many reasons.
Whereas many dances were only performed by males, the rain dance has always been performed by both men and women, a symbol that rain is important to all of civilization, both male and female.
The clothing worn when performing the rain dance was also unique. Large headdresses were worn that contained goat hair and costumes contained unique designs and jewels. Turquoise was a common fixture on the outfits and had special meaning.
The dance was unique in that it involved men and women moving in zigzag patterns, rather than standing in a circle as was often seen in tribal dances. Performed primarily in August or the hot months of summer, the rain dance was most common to regions of the Southwest, which typically experienced and continue to experience severe temperatures with little rainfall.
Rain dances vary for different tribes. Their legend is passed down and the specific steps taught orally through generations. Some rain dances are still performed today. The Pueblos for example, perform a particularly intricate form of rain dance, since rainfall in the desert is particularly needed. The headdresses and costumes of yesteryear are sometimes worn today, though they are often housed in museums or passed down from family member to family member.
The rain dance was used as a means of providing much needed rainfall to dry lands. Its influence can still be seen today, and its legend lives on.
Joseph Paige © 2006