The Shawl And The Butterfly

The wildflower and the sky court the butterfly,

The grass sways, the drums sing,

The butterflies are rainbows with wings.

This past weekend, our little town’s history society held a fund-raiser at the community center. The activities included Buffalo burgers, bingo and old-fashioned tunes played by local musicians. The highlight was a group of young Native American dancers from nearby Rapid City, South Dakota: the Woyatan Wacipi Dance & Drum group. The adults who brought them over were relatives and friends. The men sang, played the drum and explained the history of the various dances that the children would perform. Nora White Eagle explained to me that the kids help make their beautiful costumes. One of the boys was not a Native American and I had to ask about him. He is a friend of one of the other boys and he really wanted to be a dancer. I noticed that his costume colors are significant: blue and gold were the colors of the U.S. Cavalry. The group is shown below.

Before the performance, everyone stood while our Native American friends sang the National Anthem in the language of Lakota Sioux.

This is where we go on a little detour before I get to my favorite part … the dancing butterflies. I was so taken by the beauty of the dancing and the stories behind the dances. I can still hear the beat of the drum. This part of the country is the land of the Sioux. If you’ve ever taken a trip out west, you might have witnessed a gathering of Native Americans, the Pow Wow, the music and the various dances. If you’re planning a visit out this’a’way, your vacation experience really ought to include seeing such a spectacular event. It will make the old west come alive for you like nothing else! Until then, enjoy a mini-journey. Here we go, look at where the Black Hills of western South Dakota wanders into the northeastern corner of Wyoming on the map below.

Pictures are worth a thousands words, so begins our journey … not back through time, but rather, up through time to now.

From the beginning, Native Americans were accurately portrayed as a people with an artistic, spiritual nature. A deep and respectful affection for all of Creation, the Creator and Mother Earth is not just part of their culture, it is their culture. Native American art, music and stories are full of teaching and wisdom about the circle of life … life lessons. For an easy listening backdrop to read the rest of this article by, right click on the below link and then click on ‘open to a new tab’. The “Morning Song” is performed by Cherokee singers. The music is accompanied by a rich side-dish of vintage photos of Native Americans. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VqoxOcEqpk&feature=related

Some of you are no doubt familiar with the “Chicken Dance”. Parties and weddings are often where it breaks out. Native Americans have their own version.

The “Chicken Dance” mimics the strutting courtship dance of the male Sharp Tailed Grouse (commonly known as the Prairie Chicken), hence the feather bustle on the Chicken dancer’s costume. Visit YouTube and enjoy this short, well done video about The Prairie Chicken and the dance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7QBAqjyi5k&feature=related .

Some believe that the “Grass Dance” came from young boys tying grass on

their outfits. Before a dance could be held on the prairie, the grass had to be stomped down. Afterward, the boys would tie clumps of grass to themselves and play dance. Many believe that the Omaha tribe originated the dance. Still photos cannot, cannot do justice to Native Americans dancing. You’ve got to see the dance performed, hear the drums, the bells and the singing … feeling it from the inside out … courtesy of YouTube. The Grass Dance is my favorite of the male dances: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WD2qXI267as&feature=related

 

Below: The Grass Dance performed in the grass

The brightest and fastest of dance styles for Indian men is the “Fancy Dance” or “Feather Dance”. The outfit combines feather bustles of traditional costumes, but with more accessories: feathers, fluff, ribbons etc. The Fancy Dance has typically been a young man’s dance, although many older dancers who are still in shape participate. The Fancy Dance is much faster and flamboyant than all other styles, and it is sometimes freestyle, with dancers doing wild things such as flips. Fancy dancers also include the “ruffle” — it is full of shaking, ruffling, and blinding footwork. Spectacular, to say the least! See it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqE-tZNo-jc&feature=related . Now, imagine a field of a dozen men dancing like that. It is a riot of color and movement.

Now it is time for the ladies, young and old alike. Here below is a beautiful little butterfly who danced for us …

The Butterfly Dance is as breath-taking as the men doing their Fancy Dance. The Indian women have a style that only females can impart … carefully executed steps, gentle dignity and flashy grace (in the case of the Shawl Dance). Native American women of every age dance. They learn young and enjoy dancing into old age. As in so many other pursuits, youth is more exuberant, energetic and bold. Age brings visible wisdom, a steady rhythm and serene confidence to the art of the dance.

Take a look at these YouTube videos: Women performing a combination of dance styles. Notice the meticulous choreography. Dancers in the video are wearing several different styles of costumes that represent a variety of dances. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTXZTrC0ACc&feature=related

Traditional dance, buckskin dresses: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUI9b4p20Ls&feature=related . The beaded buckskin costumes … WOW, WOW, WOW!

This photo/music video is a beautifully composed piece that features historic photos of Indian women: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5VPz33V7bU&feature=related

The “Fancy Shawl Dance” is a representation of The Legend of the Butterfly Dancer.

The story goes like this … Many, many years ago when the Earth was still quite new, there was a beautiful butterfly who lost her mate in battle. To show her grief, she removed her beautiful wings and wrapped herself in a drab cocoon. In her sadness, she could not eat or sleep and her relatives kept coming to her lodge to check on her.

She was lost in heartbroken despair, but she didn’t want to be a burden on her people so she packed up her wings and her medicine bundle and went on a long journey. She wandered about for many months, until finally she had gone all around the world. (To this day, butterflies go on long journeys, but that is another story.)

On her journey she kept her eyes downcast and stepped on each stone she came to as she crossed fields and streams. Finally, one day as she was looking down, she happened to notice the stone beneath her feet. It was so beautiful that it healed her sorrowing heart.

She then cast aside her cocoon of grief, shook the dust from her wings, and donned them once more. She was so happy she began to dance to give thanks for another chance to begin a new life. She went home and told “The People” about her long journey and how she had been healed.

To this day, “The People” dance this dance as an expression of renewal, and to give thanks for new seasons, new life, and new beginnings.

~~~~~~~~~

The shawl in the Fancy Shawl Dance represents butterfly wings. The lightness of the dance steps and twirls represent the butterfly’s style of flight … joyful fluttering as if from flower to flower. This is another reason you will sometimes hear the Fancy Shawl Dance referred to as “The Butterfly Dance.” Dance competitions are very popular at Native American gatherings. Their beaded buckskin costumes and accessories are nothing short of remarkable. The dancers are covered from head to foot with colorful, lavish embellishment. THE SHAWL DANCE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gz8Nz69cDE&feature=related

“The People”. Today the human circle is large … much larger. We now call Earth a global community. Sadly, The people of this world continue to “redistribute” wealth and natural resources by force. The War Drums play loudly on the news. All Native Americans (those born here) and those Americans “by choice” (naturalized, legal citizens), have for generations proven their love for this country by serving and sometimes dying for a land known worldwide as a place for free people, THE land of the free. Native American Indians were this country’s first patriots and fought that fight first. They sought only to protect and defend a place to raise their children, a safe place to teach them the dance of Life. People of peace long for a time when a circle dance will include people of all races and nations. Here are Cherokee voices singing a very old song of hope for mankind: “Amazing Grace” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvYIjFtPQEk&feature=related

*(That would be me in the top right photo).

Hey, have you heard “New Age” Native music?? Below is a sampling of the band, Brule`. I have 2 of their CDs (great music for driving). The ancient rhythm of drums, traditional messages and instruments blends beautifully with freshly composed music. Brule` CDs are available at www.brulerecords.com. I’ll include a few YouTube links to give you a taste. Enjoy!

Brule` – “Sacred Praises” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbjWn0EUcn4&feature=related

Brule` – “Dream Shield” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCZtSbBM3Ng

Brule` – “Miracle Of Life” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5o-xhAfbC8&feature=related

Brule` performing LIVE with dancers on stage –

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round, and so are the Heavens. The wind, in it’s great power, whirls round. Birds make their nest in circles, for their faith is the same as ours. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle. So it is in everything where power moves.” ~ Black Elk, Oglala Sioux, 1863-1950

“Let us walk softly with all living beings great and small, remembering as we go, that the One God, kind and wise created all.” ~ Native Blessing

Shery Jespersen

Leave a comment 13 Comments

  1. Debbie says:

    Shery,
    Your words and images brought me tears and joy today. I grew up with Washoe Indians, or Paiute as we knew them in the Great Basin. I remember vividly the Indiana Reservations and " sectioned housing" they lived on and wondering why they lived as they did. I have had the wondrous joy of experiencing a Pow Wow in Phoenix Arizona. I’ve hiked the mountains where the Hopi lived for thousands of years, touched the walls of their caves and tried to feel what it was like to have the entire world as their backyard. We’ve visited the Plymouth Plantation where we saw the Wampanoag Indians share some of their dances and stories.
    As long as I can remember I have mourned what happened to our Native American people in this country. I know that not all tribes were perfect or harmless in their efforts to survive. It seems no MAN has been able to accomplish this great task, but their way of looking at the earth, our place in it and their great appreciation for art, nature and a spiritual guiding force is something we can all still learn from.
    Your words today are good medicine!
    Thanks for all the links too. I am off to have a look and a listen!
    Sending good medicine back to you!
    Deb

  2. Claudia says:

    Love your blog. I have been to numerous pow-wows and love each one. What dignity and grace! Thanks for reminding me.

  3. Just Beautiful! I have had little exposure to the kind of events/history you relay here; THAT’S A SHAME b/c My own heritage I have just discovered in the past 25 years is the CREEK INDIANS..w my grandmother Rachel Lee-Mobley of the LEES OF BILLY’S ISLAND in the Okeefenokee swamp region. How I wish we had been more connected to our past sooner, but thank God for this communication/via the internet that we can become more informed and educated re our history. Jonell Williams-Harrison from the James N Mobley line

  4. irina says:

    hi–liked ur post–i too am friends with lakota–they are in dire need of food and heat–i just heard the elders are the worst off–can you and your friends send some food and blankets to help keep elders warm and safe? i am in the process of collect canned food and stuff to send–i may not be rich but i can share what i have–thanks irina

  5. Margaret Taffi says:

    That was lovely! Thank you for the tour! It was very spiritual!

  6. Cathy R says:

    Oh SHERY ~ What a wonderful blog ~ Thank you for the awesome pictures and links. Loved all of them but Amazing Grace by the Cherokees touched my heart! Heavenly blessings to you for taking the time to share with us!

  7. Theresa says:

    This was such a beautiful and uplifting treat! Thank you so much for sharing all the photos and links. Many of them brought me to tears. ~~~

  8. Sharee Johnson says:

    Shery
    I almost thought I was there. Thanks for all the directions to web sites. I am a huge fan of Brule, too. Peace Sharee

  9. Cora Jo says:

    Shery…WOW! WOW! I witnessed these dances at the Native American Days celebration in Sheridan, WY…thank you for sharing these that brought back so many wonderful memories. You rock, as my granddaughter would say!

  10. Kristy T says:

    Your post brought tears to my eyes. I am an adopted Lakota. This post reminds me of days spent at Pow wows and Sundance. I am missing my Unci (Grandmother) as I read your beautifully done post. I have taken part in creating regalia for the dances and for the sacred Sundance. I am blessed that my Unci gifted me with my first regalia. There is nothing like the beat of the drum (The heart beat of Mother Earth). Peace comes when the drum begins. What a privelage it is to have my Lakota family. I too fear for our elders and those still living on the reservations. I lived on the reservation at HeDog, SD for a summer. It would humble you and make you so grateful for what we have in our own homes. It is an experience I hold close to my heart. Thank you for this beautiful post and the reminder of my other home !!! Hugs…

  11. Karin says:

    Shery, I love all your posts, but I think this is one of my favorites. It brought tears to my eyes over and over. Absolutely beautiful!

    Karin Farmgirl #2708

  12. Brenda says:

    THANK YOU, BEAUTIFUL

  13. Jan says:

    Shery, This was one of your best blogs! I have always been facsinated and admired Native American Indian culture. Your pictures are beautiful and thank you for all of the wonderful links. I loved the Amazing Grace video and the Brule’N Airo "Spirit Horse". It all touched my heart!
    Blessings to you for sharing this wonderful blog.

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