Research Native cultures who live in Arizona. Locate the White Mountains in Arizona on a map. What is the name of the reservation where they can be found? How many other Native American tribes can be found in Arizona? Divide the class into small groups to research the tribes located in Arizona. Include information about the traditional dances of each tribe.
Native American dancers refer to what they wear as regalia, not costumes. Discuss this difference with your students. Brainstorm lists of people who wear regalia and those that wear costumes. For example, regalia are worn by royalty, the Pope, and military commanders. Costumes are worn by actors, people in parades, and trick-or-treaters. Research why it would be wrong to say that the Crown Dancers are wearing costumes. Create a classroom display of images, student drawings, etc., of regalia.
Compare this dance to other Native American dances.
This dance was recorded at the Native Peoples Festival in Cherokee, N.C. Research this festival and other festivals and powwows that celebrate Native American culture. Are any held in Kentucky? As a class project, create a travel guide to “Native American Culture” including festivals and sites.
Crown Dancing is sacred to the White Mountain Apache people. It is part of ceremonies such as the Girl’s Puberty Ceremony, which marks a girl’s entry into young womanhood.
Crown Dances are also performed for very specific ceremonies that are held only at a certain time and a certain place. The dances honor the four directions and the deer. Deer are considered both food and medicine by the White Mountain Apache. The WMA people believe that Crown Dancing keeps the people in balance with their environment and ensures their survival.
Like some other ceremonial Native American dances, the dances have been modified so that they can be shared with outsiders without compromising the sacred nature of the dance, but it is still performed as a blessing.
When the Crown Dance begins, the dancers may move in unison in a circle or a line, but the rest of the dance is not choreographed. In other words, it might look differently each time it is performed. The dancers are moved by the song and the story it tells. Many of the movements represent animals.
There are five Crown Dancers. Four of them represent the different directions—North, South, East, West—and the fifth is said to have been sent from heaven to guide the other four, to show them how to live, what herbs to use, and how to pray.
Joe Tohonnie, Jr., the singer and leader of the White Mountain Crown Dancers, makes the crowns that the dancers wear to represent the four directions. They must be finished within four days. During the dances, each direction is acknowledged, beginning with the east, where the sun rises. Next the south is acknowledged, then the west and north.
The Crown Dance is a form of prayer and a blessing. Training to be a Crown Dancer requires much more than learning how to do certain steps and which regalia to wear. The Crown Dancers are called Gan, or Mountain Spirits, and they learn the traditional wisdom of their people. Part of the training involves going into the sweat lodge to pray and to learn to use their minds in different ways. Dancers always carry sacred herbs with them including the pollen from cattails.
The deer is held in high regard as both food and medicine in Native American cultures. Did anything about the dance remind you of deer? Why are deer so important to the White Mountain Apache?
The dance is not choreographed, that is, the steps are not planned out and practiced. Some of the dancers even close their eyes during the dance. How do you think they move so well together? How do they keep from crashing into each other or falling off the stage?
This sacred dance has been modified so that it can be shared with people outside the tribe. Why is this necessary? What makes something sacred?