History of Stomp Dance

Written by nelly morrison
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History of Stomp Dance
Stomp dancing in traditional costume (native American image by Joy Fera from Fotolia.com)

Stomp dancing originated in the Native American tribes known as the "Creek Confederacy" who inhabited an area that included Alabama, Georgia and parts of Tennessee. The dance is particular to this geographical area and relates to the changing seasons and circle of life. The term 'Stomp Dance' was coined by the British settlers who first witnessed the rituals. It roughly describes the small shuffling steps which make up the dance.

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Early History

There is prehistoric evidence of the dancing and music in Native American ceremonies. Verbal evidence from "The Keepers of Tribal Memory" tells that the steps, instruments and costumes used thousands of years ago are similar, if not the same, as the ones used today.

Stomp dancing used to take place on ceremonial mounds. These ancient mounds were constructed as squares and the people lined the sides according to position within the tribe, always with a sacred fire in the middle of the square. Many Native American tribes practised stomp dancing, including the Creeks, Cherokee, Delaware, Miami, Ottowa, Seminole, Shawnee and Yuchi.

Change

By the time the English arrived in America, in the 17th Century, the use of mounds was diminishing. The Natchez was the last tribe known to use these mounds, but this practice was brought to an abrupt halt by the French decimation of the tribe in 1731. The survivors sought shelter with the Creek tribes of the south east, and the Cherokee. The square shape continues to be used for ceremonies by the Cherokee people, but the Creek tribes now dance in a circle, although it is still referred to as "the square."

Removal

Already losing their land to the expanding United States of America, the Creeks and other tribes were eventually forced to march the Trail of Tears under the relocation act signed by President Jackson in 1830. They were driven south and west into what was then called "Indian Territory" and is now Oklahoma. Despite much suppression of Indian culture in the late 19th and early 20th Century and an American government ban in Indian religions, traditional ceremonies survived at inter-tribal "powwows" and tribes clung to their different cultures by way of dance and music. The stomp dance became a form of identification.

Costume and Ritual

The stomp dance is accompanied by specific music and choreography. A male leader sings and the rest of the dancers respond. He will lead the them in an counter-clockwise spiral around the sacred fire. He is followed by the "head shaker" who is a woman wearing shackles made from turtle shells filled with pebbles. She keeps rhythm for the dance and the rest of the dancers follow in man-woman formation. Dances can go on for days, depending on the ceremony, and no two dances are ever the same but rely on the leader's inspiration and repertoire for their journey. Attendance at stomp ceremonies declined until the 1970s when a revival began. Today, it's possible to both attend dances and hear the music.

Considerations

The ritual of stomp dancing, the singing and even the ground on which this ceremony is performed, is sacred to the people who are taking part. Anyone watching a ceremony should treat the experience with the same reverence they would show when attending any religious service. The most important stomp dance ceremony is the Green Corn ceremony which is a celebration of the harvest.

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