Stomp Dance
chickamaugacherokee.org



The Stomp Dance is performed by various Southeastern tribes and Native American communities, including the Muscogee, Yuchi, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Delaware, Miami, Ottawa, Peoria, Shawnee, Seminole, and Natchez tribes. Stomp Dance communities are active in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida.



The term "Stomp Dance" is an English term which refers to the 'shuffle and stomp' movements of the dance. In the native Muskogee language the dance is called Opvnkv Haco, which can mean 'drunken,' 'crazy,' or 'inspirited' dance. This usually refers to the exciting, yet meditative effect the Dance and the medicine have on the participants.


The Stomp Dance is practiced by many of the Native American peoples of the southeastern United States.  Stomp dancing is a religious and social dance, and is now most commonly associated with the Green Corn Ceremony of the Cherokee tribe of Oklahoma. According to Cherokee-Indians.com, stomp dancing gets its name from the noise that the shuffle movement of the Native Americans' feet make when performing, and the ritual always involves fire, song and dance and a square or circular raised platform. The Stomp Dance normally takes place during the end of August and beginning of September.


The Muscogee (or the Creek) Native Americans were the first people to be associated with stomp dancing, according to the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes. The Green Corn ceremony is the ritual used to praise the coming of the new year, and is the ceremony at which the stomp dance was originally performed.

 

When the Cherokees were driven away from their homeland of Georgia by the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and sent to Oklahoma, the Cherokees incorporated the Creek's stomp dance into their culture.  The stomp dance, called "Dilsti," now replaces the Green Corn Ceremony completely for the Cherokees and is performed multiple times per year, but mostly in the late summer months.

 

Cherokee Stomp Dance:

The Stomp Dance is the traditional religious dance of the Cherokee and is held at a sacred dance site. The sacred fire is built at dawn by the Firekeeper and his Assistants and is kept burning constantly. Seven arbors are located around the large fire and dance area. Made from large poles with brush for the roof, each arbor is reserved for one each of the seven clans. Seats are placed between the arbors for visitors. Each clan must be represented before the dance can begin.

Women prepare a meal for the day consisting of traditional and modern foods ranging from cornbread, brown beans and chicken to all kinds of pies, cakes and other delicious treats. A-ne-jo-di (stickball) is played in the afternoon.


At sundown, the Chief brings out the traditional pipe and fills it with tobacco. He then lights the pipe with coals from the Sacred Fire and takes seven puffs. The pipe is then passed to the Medicine Man from each clan, beginning with the Aniwaya (Wolf) Clan and each Medicine Man takes seven puffs. The Chief, Medicine Men and elders hold a meeting and then call for the first dance. The first dance is by invitation, tribal elders, Medicine Men and clan heads.


All the members visit and dance until sunrise. Each individual group has its own schedule for the dances, which is a Holy place to worship God. Stomp Dance participants include a leaders, assistants and one or more female shell shakers who wear leg rattles made from turtle shells and pebbles. Some wear shakers made from small milk cans. The shakers provide rythmic accompaniment while dancing around the fire. The dance can not begin without the shell shakers.


The chief, medicine men and elders hold a meeting and then issue the call for the first dance, then the second call. The first dance is by invitation, tribal elders, elders, medicine men and clan heads.  The dance circle is a holy place to worship God. Like a traditional anglo church, it should be respected. There are usually grounds post signs requesting no rowdiness, liquor, and general respect. Children should not be allowed to run and play within the circle. It is a sign of disrespect to take a shortcut across the circle. Spectators are expected to walk around the perimeter of the dance circle to get to the other side.


In the Stomp Dances of southeastern Indian cultures, the woman plays a very important role. The shell shaker is the woman partner of the dance singer or leader. The woman enters the dance behind the lead singer and produces music from the rattling sounds made by shuffling her feet. Legend has it that because of the natural designs on the turtle shell that look like women dancing, the turtle says "Let women dance".

Creek Stomp Dance:

Both in the past and today, the sacred fire and the reigniting of it are their main focus of prayer throughout the two-day-long celebration. The Creeks believe that the smoke let off by the fire will bring their prayers and thanks up toward the heavens. There is a type of arbor constructed on each of the edges of the square that faces north, south, west and east, and has a man sitting on each corner. The platform is encircled by a ring or mound of earth, and outside the mound are the clan houses.


after one day of fasting and a ritualistic cleansing in a nearby body of water (generally a stream or river) by the males, both the men and women perform the stomp dance. The women are restricted to dancing and keeping the beat, while the men perform the antiphonal singing. The ceremony and prayers continue off and on throughout the night, between feasts, and end after dawn.

 

Both the Creek and the Cherokee Native Americans still practice these religious rites. Most often, the stomp dance is a private ceremony with no outside visitors. However, if there are visitors, it is best if they are invited, and upon arrival, they must let the leader of the grounds know they have arrived. Although most of the tribe no longer wear traditional clothes, the leader will generally wear a feather pointing straight up from his hat. The Native Americans consider this ground to be their church, and so the area must be treated with respect.

 

Traditional Dress:

The dress of most Stomp Dancers is casual but nice. Most Stomp Dancers keep special attire for ceremonial occasions, commonly called regalia by whites, but the physical nature of the dance and outdoor conditions of the dance make comfort more important than flair.


Women wear skirts and blouses that usually incorporate traditional patterns. The women wear turtle shell shakers, or shackles on both legs (typically 13 or less on each leg). The shakers are hollowed out shells which have holes drilled in them and are filled with rocks, shot, soda can lids or anythnig else that will make them rattle.


The Traditional Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee shell shakers are made of terrapin or box-turtle shells. Following the Trail of Tears terrapin shells were harder to come by and the impoverished Indians had to resort to using condensed milk cans instead. This tradition continues today and most women start out with a set of "cans" before moving up to having their own set of shells.


The men wear blue jeans or slacks and hats which are usually cowboy or ballcap styles, usually with a single eagle, hawk or crane feather in the hat band. The ribbon shirt is the standard ceremonial attire for both men and women, which consists of a loose-fitted tunic decorated with ribbons.


Order of the Stomp Dance:

The order of the dancers is male-female-male-female in a continuous spiral or circle with young children and the odd numbers trailing at the end. The song is led by a lead man who has developed his own song on the mulitude of variations of stomp dance songs. The songs are typically performed in call and response form. The dancers circle the fire in counter-clockwise direction with slow, stomping steps set to the rhythm created by the women stomping with their shell shakers.


As the dance progresses, as many as several hundred people may join the circle. The dance continues until at least four rounds or four songs are completed by the dance leader. At this point, the dance concludes until the next leader is called out to sing. There is normally a 2-5 minute break between leaders.


Participants who are making a religious commitment of the ceremony will begin fasting after midnight and "touch medicine" at four different times over night. The medicine is made from specific roots and plants which have been ceremonially gathered by selected "medicine helpers" and prepared at dawn of the morning of the Dance. This medicine is intended for the physical and spiritual benefit of the members of the dance at the ceremonial ground.


The dance frequently continues throughout the entire night until dawn of the next day. The Stomp Dance is not meant to be a grueling and physically challenging event but almost every participant on the grounds will dance most of the night.

During the Stomp Dance, at various rounds in the dance, one of the ancient Ah-ni-ku-ta-ni dances called the Running Dance does emerge. In this variation, the dancers do not form a spiral into the water, but form a snaking, sinuous line of people that haphazardly circles the fire.


This is a variation of a more traditional social dance performed during the Green Corn Ceremony and is the only element of the Stomp Dance that resembles the ancient running dance, which was the final social dance performed during a traditional Green Corn ceremony.

During the off season Stomp Dances are performed indoors to avoid the winter cold. Some societies incorporate Stomp Dance into their pow-wow or cultural reinactment groups and perform them only as secular expressions of Native American tradition.

Each ground has its own unique protocol and differences, but the general worship is similar with the same intention.



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Turtle shell leg rattles

worn by the Shell Shakers

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