Sovereign Amonsoquath Band of Cherokee

BEAR DANCE 



The Bear Dance

The dancers circle counterclockwise around the mortar in the center of the room or, if outdoors, around a fire. At one side of the circle is a singer with a drum, who may be aided by another with a gourd rattle.

First movement---The men shuffle and sway their bodies, imitating the leader, who growls like a bear. The dancers respond with grunting when the leader raises the tone of the song and shakes the rattle in tremolo.

Second movement---The women enter the line ahead of the men as partners, face partners and dance backward several turns, then reverse. The men put their hands on the women's shoulders.

The representation of the dancers as bears, potentially as mates, has of course a certain sexual significance. At one point in the dance the actors raise their heads and tear the air over their shoulders in imitation of the dance presumed to be performed by bears. It is believed that old bears have a dance in which they circle around a big hemlock tree, leaving tooth marks on the bark at head height. West Long himself saw such a marked Bear-Dance tree when he was a boy.

The Bear Dance, which is symbolic of the bear hunt, may be given as an independent performance, but it is usually a major unit in a larger series of dances, such as in the winter ceremonial drama of the Booger Dance.

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