Celebrations seem to be the most likely occasions for groups of people to dance in modern western society, tribal dances occurred during these times too, but they also had many more purposes. We often think of dances as party fuel, a series of body movements that synchronise with the song being played, but dance was so much more than this. Tribal dances occurred for protection, for change and for empowerment among other things, very few of which we associate with dance. Whether it is the advancement of science or the breakdown, the loss of cultural traditions, or fading close-knit communities, the power that dance once had is no longer in the minds of the majority. However, there are still those who still practice these ancient moves, from Native Americans to Africans all the way to Chinese shamans, tribal dances like the following still continue.
Sacrificial – Sun Dance
Despite the negative connotations that sacrificial ceremonies may have been given over the years, dances like the sun dance have been part of tradition for decades, despite modern Americans trying to crack down on them. Here people participate in long and grueling dances that are as much about endurance as they are about giving up something (hence the sacrifice). Dancers here fast for many days then take part in lengthy and intense dances that can also include other physical stressors such as several body piercings. Today we rarely take the time to sacrifice our own comfort at all, which may be why it seems our gratitude has depleted on a grand scale.
Elemental – Rain Dance
Though rain dances are commonly associated with Native American tribes they are equally if not more important in African tribes where the heat and desert climate make life much tougher. The rain dance is an appeal to the elements to bring down some forgiving cool water that will not only soothe the skin of the people but also will help the plants and crops stay alive for a while longer. Nowadays we don’t dance to make something happen, we just dance for the sake of it, which just demonstrates how much of the magic has been lost from this bodily ritual.
Healing – Zar, Belssingway & More
You may think that with modern medicine healing dances are now archaic traditions, but on the contrary the very real results that occur from these rituals and dances have continued to baffle scientists who are trying to find a basis for how these work. In Africa the Zar dance is a ritual dance that focuses on releasing bad spirits from people, this has resulted in people being cleansed of both mental and physical strains. The Navajo tribe uses the Blessingway to ensure good health but also have other dances and techniques that combine physical activity with tribal medicines; here they commonly use peyote to cleanse issues of the mind. It is still unknown how these dances heal in the way that they do, but it is obvious that some blend of community, energy and specific movement makes these and other dances far from just a gimmick to go with a popular song.