Lesson 1: The Link between Dance and Identity
Dancing is an age old form of recreation and sport amongst Aboriginal cultures across North America. Dance helps to illuminate a particular culture as each one has its own unique way or style of dancing. Each Aboriginal group developed a unique dance method and created original dance for specific purposes and occasions.
Dance expresses an experience. In Aboriginal culture, dance was often a way to tell a story or to re-enact an event or situation. Those who participate in a dance often feel a personal connection to the dance. There are often objects used in a dance and these tend to have important symbolic meaning. The traditional dresses worn in a dance are also significant and have personal meaning to the individual or community from which they originate. It is important to note that the traditional dress not be confused with regalia.
Dancing, ceremonies, and events such as the pow wow, potlatch, and Sundance are important elements of Aboriginal culture and are a way in which Aboriginal people seek to express their culture individually and collectively. The word pow wow originates from the Algonkian word pau wau. Traditional dances are often a part of a larger gathering that builds cultural cohesiveness and collective identity.
The Canadian government enacted early assimilation policies via the Indian Act. Aboriginal gatherings and ceremonies were outlawed in the late 18th century. This had an impact upon Aboriginal culture and identity.
Share the information from the Teacher Information section with the students and integrate it into the discussion in the Introductory Activity. The focus concept is that dance is a form of sport and recreation and that it reflects cultural values, ideas, beliefs, and identity.
If possible attain either one of these video’s that explore traditional dance and its cultural meaning:
After showing the video to students initiate a class discussion on the video’s content.
Using the Student Zone Tid Bits and the Photo Gallery as a starting point, have students investigate dances of Aboriginal people in Canada. Students can examine and report on at least three different dances by Aboriginal groups across Canada. Questions they will answer in their report are:
Students may present their information in a variety of formats. A suggested forum is an Aboriginal
Sport and Recreation Dance Expo within the classroom to display their research material. You may wish to invite an
Aboriginal dancer or Elder into your classroom to demonstrate or discuss the importance of traditional dance.