An exhibition featuring Native dance as a vibrant, meaningful and diverse form of cultural expression is presented in Circle of Dance, opening Saturday, October 6, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York, George Gustav Heye Center. This five-year exhibition, which features 10 social and ceremonial dances from throughout the Americas, will be on view at the museum through October 8, 2017.
For well over 50 years in the United States and Canada—and for centuries in Latin America—church and “civilization” regulations discouraged and even outlawed many indigenous dances. Not until the second half of the 20th century were such prohibitions fully reversed. Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, many Native communities continue to preserve their traditions involving dance.
Circle of Dance will interpret the traditions of social, ceremonial and spiritual dances highlighting the significance of each dance and the unique characteristics of its movements and music. Each dance will be showcased by a single mannequin dressed in appropriate regalia and posed in a distinctive dance position. An accompanying media piece will complement and enhance the mannequin displays. Presenting the range of dances featured in the exhibition this high-definition video will capture the variety of the different Native dance movement vocabularies, and the music that is integral to their performance.
“These diverse social, ceremonial and spiritual dances are essential in maintaining the spiritual, physical and emotional well-being of tribal communities,” said Kevin Gover, Pawnee/Comanche, director of the National Museum of the American Indian. “This exhibition will demonstrate what an important tool dance is to the expression and vitality of Native peoples.”
The featured dances include the Yoreme Pajko’ora dance from the southern Sonora and northern Sinaloa states in Mexico in which the dancer wears strings of pebble-filled, dried giant silk moth-cocoon rattles covering their legs from their ankles to knees. Pajko’ora dancing is an important part of Yoreme/Catholic celebrations. The Hopi Butterfly Dance is danced in pairs by young people in northern Arizona to give thanks for the Hopi way of life. A girl’s or young woman’s ceremonial dress for the Butterfly Dance is composed of a traditional Hopi dress (a piece of woven black cloth fastened over the right shoulder, leaving the left shoulder bare and reaching to the knees); a woven belt, often dyed black, red and green; a brightly colored, lace-trimmed, cotton shawl; and anklets. The most striking components of a girl’s outfit, however, are her headdress, called a kopatsoki, and black hair bangs, which cover her eyes. The Tlingit ku.éex’, led by clan leaders along the Pacific Northwest Coast, dance wearing a headdress called a shakee.át. Eagle down, a sign of peace, is placed in the crown, and as the leader dances the eagle down spreads in the air and gently falls to the floor, blessing the ceremonial space.
“This exhibition shows the diversity and splendor of music and dance of Native people from across the western hemisphere,” said John Haworth, Cherokee, New York director of the National Museum of the American Indian. “We are so proud to premiere this exhibition here in New York City.”
Circle of Dance was organized by Cécile R. Ganteaume, the museum’s associate curator. The invaluable contributions of Native historians and numerous community members provided new perspectives and historical information for the exhibition.
The exhibit’s website is Nmai.si.edu/exhibitions/circleofdance.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York, the George Gustav Heye Center, is located at One Bowling Green in New York City, across from Battery Park. The museum is free and open every day (except December 25) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursdays until 8 p.m. For information, call (212) 514-3700 or visit AmericanIndian.si.edu.