Encyclopedia Article


In many Native American cultures, dancing is a common part of spiritual, communal ceremonies. Dancing can be a form of supplication to spirits or deities, for purposes that includes seasonal festivities, celebratory events, healing rituals, or the blessing of certain feats such as important battles or hunting trips. While dance is a common practice among various Native American groups, the form these dances take changes between cultures, as do traditions regarding who is permitted to perform them.

Among the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest, some of the most common dances are the masked kachina dances. Kachinas are guardian spirits, often associated with dead ancestors, who are believed to reside in a separate but parallel realm. According to traditional lore, kachinas return to the pueblo villages during special ceremonies. Ritual dances, in which the dancers don sacred kachina masks and embody the kachina spirit, are performed in order to invite and please the spirits. The dances often involve offerings and reverence for which the kachinas, in return, would guarantee protection and sustenance for the community, especially through bringing the rains needed for raising crops. In Puebloan cultures, both men and women can participate in ceremonial dances, although women are often excluded from surrounding spiritual practices, such as kiva societies' gatherings. Little boys who are initiated into kiva societies are often taught the dances before they have a chance to even learn the prayers.

Photo Credit: 

"Cloud Dance, Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico," photograph by Parkhurst, T. Harmon. T. Harmon Parkhurst Photo Collection ( 003903) Palace of the Governors Photo Archive, New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe

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