Snake Dance




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by Ernest Thompson Seton

The properties are a flat basket tray about 18 inches across, a round bottomed basket about a foot across the mouth and 10 to 14 inches high, on the bottom outer side of which is a loop of string, cord or leather to lift it by, and an eagle feather.

The dancer should be bare-armed and bare-legged below the knee. Any simple skirt with snaky suggestion is good. The hair may be plaited or loose, but should have a head-band in which the eagle feather sticks up behind.

A skillful tomtommer announces the dance and dictates each change. With a roll of the tomtom, he warns the audience, then beats lively march time to which the snake dancer enters briskly, holding the tray up head high in both hands. On it is the snake basket upside down. She stops opposite the Council Rock, frees her right hand, that is, holds tray and basket up on the left, and with right makes a low, sweeping salutation to the Chief. She walks around the circle once with high knee step, holding the basket as when she entered.

When back opposite the Council Rock, she stops, taps the basket with right forefinger, makes gesture of listening, then nods and smiles, pointing to the basket, implying that she has started the snake a-rattling.

Now, holding the snake tray and basket in both hands at arms' length, she does a glide to waltz time; the tomtommer marking the rhythm and chanting an air.

She swings the basket high, low, round and round, as she makes the circle of the Council Ring. In some cases, she goes round twice.

She stops opposite the Council Rock, frees her right hand, points gleefully at the basket, and by grinning, nodding, listening and pointing, lets the audience know that the snake is mad and rattling loudly.

She sets the basket down squarely opposite the Council Rock, and, again to waltz time, glides round the circle once. Then by hovering round the basket three times in a small circle, sweeping her hands over it and making hypnotic passes, she draws out the spirit of the snake. Rubbing her hands over her body, she fills herself with the spirit of the snake.

Now she assumes a snaky pose, one hand held level with the head and pointing forward, palm down, the thumb opening and closing to simulate the jaw of the snake; the other hand held low and behind, pointing backward, palm up, and waving, for the snake's tail. In this position, she glides round once, very snaky.

This is the spirit dance of the snake in her and must be made as snaky as possible, with frequent looks and gestures toward the basket in which the rattler still buzzes.

She shows by face and gesture the fascination of the snake, and on one knee before the basket, she intensifies her kinship with the snake, making many mesmeric passes over and around the basket. Then taking the eagle feather from her hair in right hand, and grasping the lifting loop of the basket in the left, after a few more vigorous passes with the feather, she springs back as the imaginary snake is exposed.

The snake apparently strikes at her and tries to escape. She drops the basket, and using the feather, manipulates the snake from all sides back into the tray. With many circular passes, she calms him till he coils there. Then she tickles his throat with the feather. He raises his head higher and higher, till in a flash she grasps his neck hand, and holding out the head at arm's length with the left. With bared teeth and unsmiling face, and head held back, she now does the snake waltz around once, thrusting the snake's head up into the faces of the spectators.

Having completed the circle with the snake on her throat, she pauses opposite the Council Rock, slowly uncoils the snake from her throat, and recoils it like a turban on her head. Cautiously removing her hands a little, with head back and tense expression on her face, she balances the snake and waltzes around once.

Opposite the Council Rock, she slowly lays both hands again upon the snake, lowers her head down to the basket, recovers the feather with right hand, and slides the snake off. She bounds back as it strikes at her. Using the feather vigorously, she calms the snake down on the tray, and with the left hand, drops the basket over it. She replaces the feather in her hair, holds up the basket and tray in triumph for a moment in both hands; then releases her right to bow and claim her applause. Then holding the tray high in both hands, she marches briskly with high knee step around and out.

The Birch Bark Roll






Additional Information:

Peer- Level Topic Links:
Storm Cloud ] Lone Scout ] Shoshoni Dog ] Caribou Dance ] Animal Dance ] Hopi Corn ] Spring Dance ] Fall Dance ] [ Snake Dance ] Courtship Eagles ] Peace Pipe ] War Dance ] Refference ]

Parent- Level Topic Links:
Native Skills ] Totem Poles ] Indian Sign Language ] Indian Ceremonies ] Indian Dance ] Indian Songs ] Birch Bark Dances ] Birch Bark Songs ] Birch Bark Plays ] Indian Games for Boys ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.