Booger Dance

Cherokee people have a tradition of using masks for storytelling, ceremonial purposes and for fun.   One such tradition was known as "The Booger Dance".  The Booger dance employed humorous and caricatured masks in order to mock and defeat powerful forces.  The word booger comes from Western Europe and is a non-flattering term, he said. Some white people used the word to describe Cherokee gatherings where masks were used. 

In ancient times, during the middle of winter, Cherokee people believed their governing spirits were gone. Taking advantage, the people would become loose with their morality and become profane. Winter dances were held, and during the dances, boogers wearing masks would arrive.  Many illnesses were brought by the Europeans and the booger dance was a way to scare off the spirit causing the illness.

“The dance is preceded by a ritual of divination. Should divination devices conclude that an illness was caused by "boogers" (bogeymen), the Booger Dance is then determined to be the means of relief. The dance is conducted to "scare away" the spirit causing the sickness. It is a masked dance, in which masks made from gourds are often garishly painted with hideous designs. The dance is not an independent rite but is a major symbolic feature of Cherokee night dances. Early forms of the Booger Dance were limited to winter performances, as killing frost and bitter cold were associated with ghosts. The dance then evolved during the nineteenth century to deal with the appearance of whites. Performed by four to ten men and sometimes two to four women, it incorporates profane, lewd, even obscene dramatic elements.”

                                                                                                                Glenn J. Schiffman


Cherokee people portrayed the boogers as strangers who spoke a strange language and were not worthy of kindness. But they were invited in to the dance and shown Cherokee hospitality. The people would try to ignore the boogers’ lack of graciousness and try to wear them out so they would leave.

The Booger masks were made to represent the faces of Indian tribes who were the enemies of the Cherokee. After the arrival of Europeans, Booger Masks began to appear with large eyebrows, mustaches, beards, and bald heads, similar to the appearance of Europeans. At social gatherings people would wear the masks and act out a person’s traits.  Thus, many of the Booger Dance masks are unflattering or humorous representations of white people, poking fun at their strange facial features, excess body hair, or sexual preoccupations. 

Other stories and information on the Booger dance can be found at these links:


Chattooga Conservancy

Appalachian History

Cherokee By Blood

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