A quality show is a great way to spend an evening. Tonight I saw an amazing one, the Lakota Sioux Dance Theatre, a troupe of Native American dancers who perform traditional and fancy tribal dancing.
The company, founded in 1978 on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, is directed by Henry Smith. It shows their culture through music, dance, ritual and presentation. To hear and see this gorgeous representation in real time with colorful regalia and native language was not only engaging, but emotionally stirring.
I didn’t get a chance to double-check their names, unfortunately, as there were so many people pushing to talk to them and get pictures, but here are two of the dancers.
The gentleman on the right was our narrator for the evening. He introduced everyone at the end (that’s where I lost track). I swear he said his name was Edward, but I’m not sure. That’s what I will call him for convenience’s sake. Please, someone correct me if you know their proper names!
Some, like the Eagle and the Buffalo dances, were pretty obvious due to the outfits; others, not so much. I was fortunate to be sitting next to a Lakota storyteller and singer named John Two Bears, who was able to tell me some of what I was seeing.
If you’ve never seen Native American dancing, at first it looks a bit disjointed and random. Watch closely and you see rhythms and movements that have purpose. Every step, every shuffle and change of direction has something to say. The sneak, a crouching motion like tracking, shows the scouting of enemies. In one dance, two warriors sneaked and then erupted into a fierce battle with prop spears. Watching, I could feel the aggression of battle.
The women performed a light, hopping synchronous thing John told me was a butterfly dance. They wore jingling metal cones on their medicine dresses, 365 in all, one for each day of the year. He said there was one hidden for leap year, but I don’t know about that!
The Navajo dancer did a hoop dance. He picked up hoops and put his body through and around them, making shapes like a bird, a bear, etc. I counted eleven hoops, but John said the most he’s seen was thirty-two! You can see a lady doing it here at an elementary school, although it’s usually done by men.
My favorite was a storm dance. I didn’t need any help interpreting this one, since the staging included the flash of simulated lightning and a bit of video as well. As the dancer ducked and waved at the lightning, I found myself feeling a bit of the raw power of nature as it clattered and boomed around the thinly sheltered people, out on the prairie so long ago. How disconnected we are from it now, and how sad that is.
Throughout, the rhythm of the drums, interspersed with Edward’s narration, Adrian’s flute playing and prayers to the Creator wove a mysterious, otherworldly spell. The smell of burning sage and silhouettes of feathered bustles against a changing colored backdrop of projected images. The jingle of bells on the ankles of some of the dancers. Voices uplifted in song, touching the hearts of the audience. John knew a lot of the songs and could sing along. I envied him.
The audience clapped enthusiastically at first, but as the show went on, they began to add shouts and cheers to their applause. When Edward brought the eagle feather standard out, John stood up long before he exhorted the audience to do the same, as he sang a song for veterans. It was a respectful moment. The prayer for the people, who had fallen away from their Creator, put a lump in my throat.
At the end of the show, the company received a well-deserved standing ovation. Henry Smith said there would be a DVD out in about five weeks, available through the website, of the show we had just seen. He apologized that it wasn’t ready that night. It’s on my list of purchases. I exhort you to go see this company if they come to your area.