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Lesson 1: Learning Social Dances

Aim: What elements make up Native American social dances?
Summary: Students will learn three Southeastern tribal social dances, and will perform the different roles for each dance.
Additional Materials: An empty water bottle or other container; beans or beads; two sticks; tape; paper; paint; markers; beads; feathers
Standards: National 1, 5, 11
Vocabulary: rattles, social dance

Students will learn three tribal social dances from the Choctaw and Cherokee tribes including singing, movement, and percussion. These dances are performed at various social occasions, including powwows—gatherings that bring together members of different tribes where arts and crafts, music, and dances are shared and celebrated. Because each tribe has its own language, the lyrics used in these dance songs are vocables—syllables like “la la la,” or “dum de dum”—so that everyone can sing together. While the lyrics themselves don’t have semantic meaning, the songs always have a specific purpose and cultural significance. The singing is accompanied by percussion—generally drums and rattles—and the dance movements express the meaning of the dance.

Martha Teaches Social Dances

Social Dances Demonstration

Native American singer Martha teaches a medley of three traditional social dances: “Choctaw Drum Dance,” “Cherokee Bear Dance,” and “Cherokee Friendship Dance.”

Learn Three Social Dances: Sing, Dance, and Play Percussion

  • Listen to “Social Dances,” Track 32. Then proceed to learn the different performance elements in each social dance.
“Choctaw Drum Dance”
  • Listen to “Choctaw Drum Dance,” Track 33.
  • The drum dance generally opens a series of social dances. Explain that the Choctaw people knew that the steady beating of the drums in the hills meant it was time to assemble. The beat of the drum is the heart of the Choctaw people.
    • What is the main instrument that you hear in this dance?
  • Learn the lyrics using “Choctaw Drum Dance” pronunciation, Track 34.
  • Learn to sing the response lines in “Choctaw Drum Dance,” Track 33.

“Choctaw Drum Dance”

LEADER:
Call 1
Yo a le yo ya he lay ya
Yo a le yo ya he lay ya
(x2)

Call 2
Hi ya he yo we hey ya
Hi ya he yo we hey ya
(x2)

(Call 1)

(Call 2)

 

GROUP:
Response 1
Yo a le yo ya he lay he heya
(x2)

Response 2
Hey ya he yo we hey heya way he ya
Hey ya he yo we hey!
(x2)

(Response 2)

(Response 2)

  • Next, learn the movements to “Choctaw Drum Dance” by watching the video above.
  • Finally, learn the percussion part in “Choctaw Drum Dance.” The constant drum is the heartbeat of the dance and is accompanied by rattles.
“Cherokee Bear Dance”
  • Listen to “Cherokee Bear Dance,” Track 35.
  • This dance symbolizes the bear hunt, a Cherokee tradition.
    • What is the main instrument that you hear in this dance?
  • Learn the lyrics using “Cherokee Bear Dance” pronunciation, Track 36.
  • Learn to sing the response lines in “Cherokee Bear Dance,” Track 35.

“Cherokee Bear Dance”

LEADER:
Wah hey wah hey
Wah hey wah hey
Wah hey

LEADER:
Call 1:
Hey yo heya ta ha ney hi yo
(x2)
 
 

Call 2:
Hi ya gnu hi ya gnu hey yo
(x2)

 

 
 
 
 

GROUP:
Response 1:
Hey yo heya ta ga ney hi yo
Hey yo heya ta ha ney hi yo
Hey yo heya taa ga ney hi yo
(x2)

Response 2:
Hi ya gnu hi ya gnu hey yo
Hi ya gnu hi ya gnu hey yo
Hi ya gnu hey hi yo
(x2)

  • Next, learn the movements to “Cherokee Bear Dance” using the video above.
  • Then, learn the percussion part in “Cherokee Bear Dance,” which is played with rattles.
“Cherokee Friendship Dance”
  • Listen to “Cherokee Friendship Dance,” Track 37.
  • This is a round dance, a farewell dance that ends a series of dances at a social gathering.
    • What is the main instrument that you hear in this dance?
  • Learn the lyrics using “Cherokee Friendship Dance” pronunciation, Track 38.
  • Learn to respond to the leader in “Cherokee Friendship Dance,” Track 37. Please note that the students’ response in this song is an exclamatory “Whoo!” You may use “Cherokee Friendship Dance” pronunciation, Track 38, to learn the lyrics to the leader part of the song.

“Cherokee Friendship Dance”

LEADER:
Hey ya yo, hey ya yo!
 
Ha way ya
Ha way hey ya ne
ho ya ne
Ha way hey ya ne
ho ya ne
Way ha!

GROUP:
Whoo!

LEADER:
Ya ho ga ne wa, yo ya ney
Ya ho ga ne wa, ho ya ney
Ya ho ga ne wa, ho ya ney
Ya ho ga ne wa, yo ya ney
Way ha!
 

GROUP:
Whoo!

 

LEADER:
Yo ho he ho
Ho wee yo hi ho
Yo ho he ho
Ga li ye e li ge
Yo ho he ho
Osda da ne ho!
Yo ho he ho
Wah ho!

GROUP:
Whoo!

LEADER:
Ho we yo hi ho
Ho we yo ho we hi ho
Ga-sa-qua-lv o-tsa-(l)-s-gi
Ga-sa-qua-lv o-tsa-(l)-s-gi
Ho we yo hey ho
Wah ho!

GROUP:
Whoo!

  • Next, learn the movements to “Cherokee Friendship Dance” using the video above.
  • Then, learn the percussion part in “Cherokee Friendship Dance,” which is also played with rattles.
Performing Three Social Dances
  • Divide the class into three groups, assigning the roles of singers, dancers, and percussionists. Note that each role is considered equally important.
  • Begin by acting as the leader, singing the call and having the students respond. As your class becomes more comfortable, ask for student volunteers to serve as the leader.
    • Important note: In the Native American tradition, only a tribal leader can sing the call, and the group responds. You and your students will have an opportunity to try out the role of the leader in the classroom. During the concert, only Martha will sing the call, and everyone else will respond.
  • Perform all three dances, switching the groups’ roles for each dance.
  • If your students are ready, they can try performing all the parts at once, simultaneously singing, dancing, and playing percussion.
Creative Extension

Create Your Own Social Dance

Social dances can be about various topics, just like the “Cherokee Bear Dance.” You can create a class dance about an animal or any other subject you choose.
  • Brainstorm possible subjects for your class social dance.
  • Create a chant for your dance. You can use words or vocables.
  • Add percussion to your chant.
  • Create a movement for your dance.
  • Perform your new dance along with the other social dances you have learned.
Creative Extension

Create Your Own Rattle

  • On Create Your Own Rattle (PDF), your students will have an opportunity to create their own rattles.
  • Encourage your students to try out different noisemaking materials to put inside their rattles, as well as different quantities, until they come up with a sound they like.
  • Students can use their rattles to play the percussion part when they perform the social dances.

Musical Word Wall

Add the words rattles and social dance to the Musical Word Wall.

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