Music and dance have different purposes in different cultures. In native cultures, ceremonial dances are sacred, sometimes considered a form of prayer. These are not performed in public. Social dances may tell stories and are performed in public.
While each native culture is unique, in general no dance occurs without music, usually provided by drums, shakers, rattles, and the human voice. Sometimes the dancers themselves provide the music with bells, rattles, or jingles attached to their ankles, wrists, or clothing. Musicians often sing or chant as they drum.
Dancers don’t “move in time to the music.” The music and dance communicate and move together to express the purpose of the dance within a ceremonial or social context.
The Navajo dance performed in the segment is the Dance of the Deities. This dance represents the origin of the Navajo people and has been modified to protect the sacred nature of the dance. Certain prayerful words that would be called out during the ceremony are not included when the dance is performed in public. The dance demonstrates the Navajo belief that the four directions are the sacred pillars of life. Four of the dancers wear regalia representing the four directions.
The Apache dance performed in the segment is a Crown Dance. A Crown Dance is a form of prayer and, as with the Navajo dance, this dance has been modified for public performance. Joe Tohonnie Jr. of the White Mountain Apache Crown Dancers notes that the song “shows the dancers how to move.”
The Totonac Sun Ceremony performed in the video is part of a long ceremony. There are different songs and dances for each part of the ceremony. The instruments used are a small hand drum made using the skin of a bobcat and a small flute made from a type of hard bamboo that grows only in the state of Vera Cruz, Mexico, home of the Totonac. The most spectacular part of the ceremony is when five men climb a tall pole. While one stays on top of the pole dancing and playing music, the other four, with ropes tied around their waists, fling themselves backwards and whirl around the pole 13 times as they descend to earth. This dance is very dangerous and all of the men have to be precisely balanced. Training to be a pole dancer starts between 7 and 12 years of age.
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