By Anna Hoefnagels

As with most cultures around the world, the dances of Native people in Canada are a form of celebration while also serving important spiritual or sacred purposes. Changes to various dance styles happen over time as they adapt to new external and internal influences. We can trace many contemporary dances to earlier social practices, and in some cases, specific dates and persons can be ascertained for certain changes and innovations.

Borrowing has always been a part of Indigenous culture, with groups readily sharing their social dances and traditions with one another. The origin and development of the powwow is a good example of this sharing among groups over time. As a result of this sharing, and the passing of traditions from one generation to the next, there is often no definitive version of a dance. This renewal of traditional practices illustrates the vitality of and commitment to Indigenous cultural expressions. Dancing takes place on reserves and in urban contexts, publicly and privately, for pleasure, entertainment, introspection and to reconnect with Mother Earth, Indigenous culture and other First Peoples.

Many Indigenous dances originated prior to contact with non-Natives. Other contemporary dances can be traced to pre-reserve traditions and customs. The resilience of First Peoples is clear when considering the ways in which the retention, adaptation, transformation, and renewal of dances occurs. Despite strenuous assimilation efforts and inevitable interaction with local non-Natives, Indigenous dance and culture remain central to many persons as they continue to promote their identity and heritage through dance, music and celebration.

© 2024 This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
Indigenous Dance