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Lesson 1: Learning “Social Dances”

Aim: What elements make up Native American social dances?
Summary: Students will learn two Southeastern 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 two 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 two traditional social dances: “Choctaw Drum Dance” and “Cherokee Bear Dance.”

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

  • Listen to “Social Dances,” Track 11. Then proceed to learn the different performance elements in each social dance.
“Choctaw Drum Dance”
  • Listen to “Choctaw Drum Dance,” Track 12.
  • 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 13.
  • Learn to sing the response lines in “Choctaw Drum Dance,” Track 12.

“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 14.
  • 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 15.
  • Learn to sing the response lines in “Cherokee Bear Dance,” Track 14.

“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.
Performing Two 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 both 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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