Ghost Dance and Sun Dance

For my project, I researched two different Lakota dance rituals, the Ghost dance and the Sun dance. We learned about the Sun dance from Celinda’s article, but I wanted to learn more. The purpose of the sun dance is to reunite and reconnect with the earth and the spirits. It calls for a renewal of life and a prayer for life. A large part of the sun dance is sacrifice. Men are required to partake in “piercing,” when two cuts are made on each side of the dancer’s chest where wooden pegs are inserted. It acts as a form of self-abasement so that the spirits will respond to his sacrifice and give him power and strength to finish the sun dance. Sacrifice also allows for the dancer to give up a piece of his body for this good of his people. The sun dance was outlawed in the 1880s and reintroduced in the 1930s.

Sun Dance (Youtube video)

The Ghost dance was a religious movement that began in 1870 and developed into a pan-Indian movement by 1890. Wovoka spread the movement because of his vision of the dance and preached the qualities of non-violence and a peaceful doctrine along with the dance. The Ghost dance is similar to the Sun dance in that the government intervened because they saw the Ghost dance movement as a largely subversive response to the settlement of Indian lands. The government failed to accept the Ghost dance movement and aggressively intervened with the famous massacre at Wounded Knee. The purpose of the Ghost dance is to reject negative things of the western culture (war, guns, alcohol), and accept the positive things (wage, labor, clothes, tools). The dance is for the regeneration of the earth and allows for the contact with the deceased. The people join hands and dance around in a circle until they fall down and are then able to connect with the spirits of their ancestors.

“The Father had commanded all the world to dance, and we gave the dance to the people as we had been bidden. When they danced they fell dead and went to the spirit-camp and saw those who had died, those whom they had loved…” (Short Bull)

Ghost Dance (Youtube video)

Anela, Haley, and I compared the different dance rituals that we researched and found many common themes between them. The similarities that we found between the Hoop dance, Hawaiian Hula, Maori Poi balls, and the Lakota Ghost and Sun dances were that they all contained the symbol of the circle, consisted of some type of storytelling, conveyed a certain point, acted as a way of passing down information and tradition from generation to generation, and had the mediation of the government at one point in time. Dance can be seen as a ritual in many different ways. It can be tied to a religion of Native tradition, or it can be a ritual of repetition, such as in Martha Graham’s modern dance style. Considering a dance to be ritual or not depends on the individual’s definition of ritual.

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