Sun Dance Song


Close your eyes. Imagine being with the Sioux tribe during a ceremony where this song is sung and danced. Picture where you are. What role are you playing in the ritual? What are you feeling? What are you thinking?

What blessings might you be asking through this spiritual song? What movements might go with this song? What kinds of instruments might be making the sounds that you hear?

Now imagine being outside the indigenous nation as a white settler, US cavalryman, or buffalo hunter. What feelings and thoughts might be running through your head while you listen to this song? What questions would you have? What would you imagine this song to be? What aspects of this music are similar to your music? What is different?

Draw or write about the scene you've just imagined being a part of.

This song and dance is still performed at pow-wows—celebrations where Native peoples gather for singing, dancing, and fellowship. How does this song’s purpose change in this setting? What purpose does it serve for Native peoples today?

"Sun Dance Song" performed by the Northern Cheyenne Singers on Authentic Music of the American Indian, Beverly Hills: Legacy International [CD 312], © 1988. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

The "Sun Dance Song" is performed by the Northern Cheyenne Singers in a live recording that includes flute, as well as traditional percussion instruments.

Because of the nature of this piece, a music score and lyrics are not available for it.

The Sun Dance is an important public ritual that many indigenous American nations of the Great Plains perform to ask for help from spirit persons for well-being. Dancing is an important part of the ritual, though dancers barely move from their places. Men (and women in some nations) dance around a pole made from the trunk of a tree that is cut during an appropriate ceremony. The dancing can last for days, during which the dancers may pierce themselves or go without food or water as sacrifices.

Singing is done in unison with percussion or flute accompaniment. Vocalizations often are just sounds, not words.

Banned by the United States government from the time of the Plains Wars until the 1930s, the dance was continued in private. The Sun Dance is often performed today at pow-wows, which are gatherings of Native people from many nations.

Cree tribal sun dancers, probably Montana, c.‚ÄČ1893.

Cree tribal sun dancers, probably Montana, ca.1893. Photograph by Frank La Roche.


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