Iroquois Social Dance Songs: Volume 2

Iroquois Social Dance Songs: Volume 2

Play song


Performed by


Native Words



Rabbit Dance (Gwayon Gaha) Another new dance from Oklahoma inspired by their popular Rabbit Dance. A few years ago Herb Dowdy from the Allegany Seneca witnessed this dance while on a visit to Okla. Seneca-Cayuga. He was interested in the dance and felt he could make his own songs for it. The result was this set composed with the help of Avery Jimerson and another friend. Their songs are great favorites with singers and auditor alike. Especially in New Your State the dancing women will join the singing and the beauty of their higher pitched voices gives an unforgettable quality to these songs. A second set has since been composed but has not the popularity of those recorded here. It might be noted that some years ago the Rabbit Dance had been introduced at Ohswekan with songs learned in Oklahoma by the great traveler, the late Chauncey Isaacs. Songs were also brought back by Percy Smoke and other members of the Fred Williams (Red Cloud) dance troupe who danced it with a high forward step and no backwards motion. This troupe had included a Winnebago, Big Blow Snake and it was from him that they had learned it. The dance was done very occasionally, but never really accepted until Dowdy's set appeared. The usual pattern of drum and rattles in the center of the Longhouse is cross-over pattern so that his left and right hands grip her left and right hands. They face forwards and dance two step forward and one back, good dancers elaborating will add a rocking swing of their gripped hands and a slight dip of the body. Fishing Dance and Rabbit Dance are the only dances in which the male can choose a female partner, and in this instance cause giggling and general mirth as he makes a selection. Halfway through each song the change of temp indicates a circling motion from the dancers. In Canada the dancers retain their grip and while still dancing forward also turn one revolution to the left, their hands being at the axis of the turn. In NY State one often sees the dancers release hold and independently turn in opposite directions with a very small perimeter and on completing the turn rejoining hands and continue forward. This is another dance in which each song is given twice during a social. Iroquois
Scalp Dance (Daya'noha'kwata) A 'Show Business' dance. Tradition tells that these were for the ancient Scalp Dance, but that it was danced differently than now done on shows. Until recently it was part of a "medicine-men's" ritual (herb doctors and fortune tellers) ---Dahade'nahos--- held to strengthen their various medicines. This was performed in the forest but later transferred to the Longhouse. It is last remembered at Lower Cayuga Longhouse just prior to W.W.I. It is now a dance for hire, a story dance with obvious plot suggestions and opportunity for dance embellishments. It illustrated a warrior staking and killing an enemy and 'scalping'. In time these displays acquired some sophisticated props to add to their realism...artificial removable scalp, and bags of 'blood' under the scalp and in the clothing. When the bags were punctured the gory artifice was emphasized. Stories are yet recalled of white women blanching and fainting while viewing this display. Unfortunately, today these elements of realism have passed from the dance... perhaps the mass butchery of twentieth century civilized warfare has produced a hardier breed of women. Iroquois
Duck Dance (Twanntwannt'gaha) A playful dance in which men in two lines hold hands and dance a gadatrot-like jog contraclockwise as pairs of women dance backwards at the head of the men's column. When signaled by the drum they dance toward the men who raise their clasped hands allowing them to pass under. With another change from the singers the arms come down capturing a pair of women in front of the men. The women stay here, dancing backwards while the men continue forward. Soon another signal and the arms rise to let the women continue toward the end of the lines of men. As they pass beyond these last men they are free to dance forward round the Longhouse (while the rest of the 'captured' women dance backwards) until they again approach the oncoming lines of men. At the end of each song some men will quack in duck fashion. This dance always provides frequent occasion for jostling and playful banter. The ducking action below the mens arms signifies a duck dipping its head below water; the backing up of the women represents the current pushing against the swimming duck. It is though that the Duck Robin and Pigeon dances were part of a former spring Thanksgiving ritual welcoming the return of edible wild birds. Iroquois
Robin Dance (Djis'koko'gaha) A dance only occasionally done, but by no means forgotten or obsolete. A head singer and assistant, each with horn rattle, form the head of a single column of dancers, women at the rear. The dancers face inwards and dance in a one-two flat footed side step. Half way through the song signals in the song tell the dancers to turn forward and a half turn to the right so that they face outwards. Between songs they walk slowly facing ahead, as in fact they do during all dances where there is a pause between the songs. With the start of the second song they face outwards and again, at half way, turn forward and then to the left facing inwards and so on until the end of the dance. The male dancers can sing if they wish. but too few know these songs to make this a frequent occurrence. Iroquois
War Dance (Wasa'za) Of all the many dances recorded here several may be occasionally used for individual curative rites as dictated by their individual needs as told by a fortune teller, but they remain essentially social dances. Only Wasa'za and Wuni'i are definite religious dances never given for fun in the Longhouse. Nowadays, they are seen outside these precincts when given by professional dance troupes. With the War Dance there are 4-5 songs sung outdoors at the fire and on the way into the Longhouse, when it is used in a religious manner, which are never given on shows. Otherwise the songs for religious and show use are the same. Some singers prefer to alter them somewhat, it should be noted, so that they can not be accused of exploiting their religion. It is possible that the War Dance may have been offered anciently to the spirit charged with protecting Warriors but the advent of the Handsome Lake Religion (Gi'we'yo....Good Word) and the passing of the ancient war complex gave it a new function. Today, it is addressed to "Our Grandfathers, the Thunderers" and is referred to in English as the 'Rain Dance' or Thunder Dance'. This is for men only and offers them the greatest freedom of any dance in body movement. The dancers move individually and freely about in a loose contraclockwise direction within a loosely packed knot of dancers. Body weight is placed on one leg, knee bent, and 3 tiny shuffles or little hops made, while the other leg is extended and tapped 3 times on the floor, either flat footed or with toe or heel variations. The weight is then transferred to to the other leg and these motions repeated. This continues to the end of the song. The dance is unique in its brief posing stances by the dancers. With each change in weight the dancer affects a new pose: Wrists on each hip, elbows out and looking at one; then perhaps on a next change to look at the other elbow; a deep knee bend with one leg, one wrist on hip, the other arm bent high in the air and gazed at by the dancer; both arms extended bird fashion to the side, fist clenched, or stretched low and to the back with the dancer looking over a shoulder at his hands. Such are some of the stances obtained. The name"wasa'za" referes to the Osage Indians, and during Rain Dance the dancers are addressed as "Wasa'za hono" (Osage People)....but this is ambiguous and may only mean 'dancers of the Rain Dance'. It is not unknown for a singer to forget himself in some manner in the course of an evening's singing make some error. An example is provided on the record when on singer, thinking of other matters, noticeable errors (as will be readily apparent) and was greeted by the typical response to this situation: surprised looks, smiles, and shoving from the others. In the Longhouse, during more secular songs there might have been chuckling and comic teasing as well. The Iroquois penchant for teasing can usually be relied upon to ease the tensions of an awkward situation. Iroquois
Raccoon Dance (Sano'gaha) This is much like Giyo'wa. A water drum and horn rattles are in the center floor space. A slow introduction brings a single file of paired men out, doing a lumbering flat footed stomp. Then the tempo of song and dance increase slightly. The third section introduces the fast Giyo'wa-step dancing at which point the women join in, changing partners as in Giyo'wa. With the conclusion of each song a dancer yelps in imitation of a raccoon. Iroquois
Alligator Dance (Daga'nodon'kya) Here there is but one song, consisting of one verse endlessly repeated. The dance is not performed as much as some young people would like, as some older people fear accidents as exuberant spirits are stimulated. A line of men begin chugging around the singers, giving at one point a simple antiphonal response concluding with a drawn out descending call. Soon women come forward, link left arms to the crook of their male partner's right and chug along with them. With the reaching of the drawn out call the men, more-or-less in place, swing their partners around in one complete revolution, similar to the swing in a square dance but by the elbow grip, not waist or at arms length. The swing is not violent. It is not always the women who is swung, especially if she tends to heaviness and the male is slight...but this only adds to the merriment of all. Iroquois