Rain Dance – This ceremonial dance is performed by numerous agricultural peoples, especially in the southwest, where summers can be extremely dry. The ceremony was performed to ask the spirits or gods to send rain for the tribes ‘ crops. The dance usually takes place during the spring planting season and before crops are harvested. However, it was also performed in times when rain was desperately needed.
One thing that makes rain dances unique from some other ceremonial dances is that both men and women participate in the ceremony. The dance varies from tribe to tribe, each having their own unique rituals and costumes. Some tribes wear large headdresses while others wear masks. Accessories often include paint on the body, beads, animal skins, horse and goat hair, feathers, embroidered aprons, and jewelry made of leather, silver, and turquoise. Feathers and the color blue are often found in dress and accessories, symbolizing the wind and rain, respectively. These special clothes and accessories which were worn during the rain dance, were generally not worn at other times of the year, but rather, were stored for this specific ceremony. Dance steps usually involve moving in a zigzag pattern as opposed to other ceremonial dances that involve standing in a circle.
Stories of the origins of ceremonial dances have been passed from generation to generation orally. When the Native Americans were relocated in the 19th century, the United States government banned certain tribal ceremonial dances. In some regions tribal members would tell federal authorities that they were performing a “rain dance” rather than disclosing the fact they were actually performing one of the banned ceremonies.
Though the rain dance was most often performed by tribes in the southwest such as the Puebloan, Hopi, Zuni, and Apache, other tribes also performed the ceremony, including the Cherokee in the Southeastern United States. Many tribes continue to perform this ceremony today.