Sunday, February 23, 2014

What do our dancers wear?

The boys on our Dance Team are members of The Order of the Arrow and/or The Tribe of Mic-O-Say. Each of these are honor camping societies of the Boy Scouts of America and membership represents a Scout’s accomplishments and dedication to the ideals of Scouting. Not something beyond or outside of Scouting, these organizations support and enhance Scouting and both make extensive use of traditions drawn from Native American cultures.

One aspect of those cultures with which many modern Americans are familiar is the ceremonial dance. Our Dance Team strives to keep the spirit of traditional native dances alive among Americans of diverse origins and experiences.

A typical dancer’s regalia includes:

  • ·         a headband with feather(s)
  • ·         Apache leggings, usually made of fur
  • ·         bells worn around the knees
  •          a breech cloth, made of leather, fur, or cloth and ranging from plain to elaborately-decorated
  • ·         feathered arm bustles
  •        a back bustle; these are large arrays of feathers in a circular fan fashion, many of which put a peacock’s tail to shame!
  • ·         a choker made of beads in the Native American style
  • ·         a rattle
  • ·         moccasins
  • ·         solid-color gym shorts
  • ·         A ribbon shirt may also be worn.

Our boys spend many hours constructing their costumes using a combination of traditional and modern materials such that the final product is true to Native American dance traditions. The costumes may be in natural colors or bright, modern ones. Many include some components of each sort. 

Construction of the back bustle is among the most time-consuming    Fluffs and hackles come in an astounding variety of colors and members of our dance team seem to have employed all of these among their various costumes.  The long feathers are mounted to a ring and attached to a base to which a belt is affixed, allowing the bustle to be worn while dancing. The center of the back bustle is finished off by another feathered medallion known as a ‘spreader.’ When assembled on a dancer, the effect is spectacular.
portions of costume-building. The back bustle is an array of 24 to 50 or more long feathers (often, turkey wing feathers are used), 2-3 feet in diameter. The feathers are usually black or white and these are further enhanced with additional feathers known as ‘fluffs’ and ‘hackles’.

Arm bustles are similar in concept to the back bustle but are constructed of fluffs and hackles rather than wing feathers. Like the spreader, the arm bustles typically feature a center of decorative beadwork. Headbands also feature beadwork, done by the boys themselves. Beadwork, too, is painstaking and time consuming but when done well, adds an unmistakable, authentic, finished look to the costume.

Knee bells are mounted on leather straps that circle the leg just below the knee. Not cheap ‘jingle’ bells, these bells are usually fairly heavy-gauge nickel-plated steel or brass, in styles known as sheep bells (like a small cowbell) or ‘beehive bells (these are somewhat like the familiar ‘jingle’ bells you might see at Christmas time, only sturdier and with a more-impressive sound.)

Most dancers construct their own moccasins and these may be adorned with beadwork medallions or other options. Rattles are as varied as the materials available and the dancers’ imaginations can make them. Some are made wholly from plant products (e.g. gourds), while others include horns or shells.

Some dancers sport breast plates in the Native American style. These are made with long, slender beads known as ‘hairpipe’ (the origins of this term are obscure). Traditionally made from bone, horn, or sea shell, today, plastic provides an economical, light-weight alternative to those traditional hairpipe materials. Breastplates range from the comparatively ‘utilitarian’ to the rather ornate. Again, these are as varied as their creators. Chokers, which all the Dance Team Members wear, are similar in style to the breast plates but much smaller, of course, and worn around the neck.

The breechcloths worn by our dancers are more akin to aprons than to the skimpy garments seen in some old movies. These usually fully cover the width of the wearer and extend below the knee, with the back piece being longer than the front. The two pieces are suspended from a belt worn round the waist. Other than these scant specifications, the breechcloth is limited only by its maker’s vision. Leather is perhaps the most popular material for breechcloths, though some very realistic faux furs make having ones that appear to be fashioned from wolf’s skin a possibility.

When all assembled, a dancer’s costume is an impressive sight indeed; add in many others similarly attired, mix in beating drums and Native chants and the effect can be incredible. This is enhanced when the dancers are circling a real campfire in the great outdoors.

If you have not seen our Dance Team in action, be sure to make the time to attend a performance!

Dance Team Extravaganza

 Congratulations are in order for our Troop 451 Dance Team!

What a day it was! Members of our Dance Team gathered at Trietsch Memorial at 8:30 Saturday morning, February 22nd and didn’t return home until about 12 hours later. This was an eventful day that included three public dances in Little Elm, Lewisville, and Lake Dallas. All three performances included an Arrow of Light Award ceremony and the last also included a bridging ceremony for Webelos 2s advancing from their Cub Packs to their new Boy Scout Troops. Following the final performance, most of those participating repaired to Braums on 1171 for a double-scoop ice cream cone.

For the first ceremony of the day, our boys travelled to Little Elm to participate in the awarding of the Arrow of Light. The Arrow of Light is the highest award in Cub Scouting and is earned by Webelos in their second year, prior to bridging to Boy Scouts. The Ceremony was held right on the northern shore of Lake Lewisville and as befits an early morning here in late February, it was chilly, especially for our dancers, whose costumes are not intended to ward off the cold. They looked resplendent, however, bedecked in feathered finery and other appurtenances of the Native American dance tradition, including personalized face paint.  
In addition to the dancers’ own costumes, the Scouts playing the roles of Chief, Guard, and Medicine Man have unique and impressive adornments: The Chief wears a feathered war bonnet that extends all the way to the ground. The Guard’s war bonnet is a more standard size that stops at the shoulders. The Medicine Man wears a white buffalo’s head bonnet. The Guard and the Runner (who ‘selects’ the Webelos to be awarded their arrows) also carry brass tomahawks, while the Medicine man and the Chief sport their own impressive staffs.

Loading vehicles with all the dance regalia, and then unloading it and putting it on is an involved process that is equally complex when it is reversed after a ceremony has concluded. Fortunately, in the course of three performances in this one day, everyone’s gear arrived safe and reasonably sound and made it safely home again.

Our Dance Team has performed nearly a dozen public dances already this season and the experience shows. The ceremony ran smoothly and those with speaking parts were loud and confident, saying their lines with authority. Our boys opened with the Eagle dance and the white eagle costumes were impressive as always. Next up was the Snake dance. This is a ‘follow-me’ dance in which three dancers lead lines of boys from the pack in a series of dance moves. Although some of the younger Cub Scouts were unsure as to whether they wanted to join in, for this ceremony, as with all the others, our dancers enjoyed good audience participation.

The Webelos being awarded their arrows seemed appropriately impressed by the pomp and pageantry our dancers provided and by the emphasis on staying true to the ideals of Scouting. The Webelos’ achievements were celebrated with the Warrior’s Dance and the ceremony wrapped up with the Buffalo Dance, which includes two dancers playing the part of buffalos, complete with brown buffalo’s head bonnets and hunters armed with stone-tipped spears.

After the first ceremony, we returned to Trietsch where we had a room reserved, thanks to the generosity of the church. There, many members of the Team reviewed the additional lines that are part of the Bridging Ceremony while others took advantage of the time to adjust, refine, and repair their costumes. By popular vote, we headed to the nearby Dairy Queen for lunch and then back to Trietsch to get ready for the next performance at the First United Methodist Church in Lewisville.

This ceremony was much like the one in Little Elm except that, being held indoors, it was considerably warmer. In further testimony to the Team’s experience by this point in the dance season, a potentially awkward mix-up with the Webelos who were receiving their arrows was handled with such aplomb that the audience may have thought that it was part of the normal program.  After this performance concluded, we proceeded with all due attention to our next one, which was scheduled to begin rather soon after the previous one ended.

The final performance of the day took us
back across Lake Lewisville to the little community of Lake Dallas. Here, the ceremonies included both the Arrow of Light award and the Webelos bridging to their new Boy Scout Troops. Festivities were held in the multipurpose room of the local middle school and our hosts provided us with spaghetti or lasagna and salad for dinner.

Arrow of Light ceremonies are typically very similar but this one featured a break with tradition – literally. When the Webelos first received their arrows, our ‘Chief’ found the arrows (not the Webelos!) wanting and snapped each one over his knee! Needless to say, the Webelos were speechless. There they were, anxiously awaiting the tangible symbol of the award they had earned and here some big ol’ guy in a huge headdress goes and _ruins_ the arrows!

As it happened, this was a variation planned by the pack and the ‘inferior’ arrows were soon replaced by the real arrows the boys were to be awarded. Those who were not in on the joke breathed a collective sigh of relief. Owing to scheduling issues, our final performance of this long day wrapped up later than anticipated and we did not leave Lake Dallas until about 7:00 PM.

From there, we headed to Braums where treats and good times were had by all.  Many Team members didn’t make it home until after 8:30, making for a long, if enjoyable, day.