Lakota Rabbit Dances

By Anna Hoefnagels

Many Indigenous nations across North America have a dance they call the Rabbit Dance.  Rabbit Dances have various meanings and origins, as well as specific music and dance steps. For the Lakota people, the Rabbit Dance is a social dance that was taught to a young boy by a rabbit. The boy then taught it to his people. Rabbit Dances occur at Lakota powwows and similar social gatherings. They are also performed at 49ers, night-long social gatherings for younger people.

This is the only couple’s dance of the Lakota.  Pairs of dancers line up behind one another, moving in a circle in a clockwise direction. The male and female pair stands close to one another, shoulder to shoulder, with the man on the left side of his partner, on the outermost side of the dance area.  The dancers take a step forward with their left feet, then slide their right feet ahead, step ahead again with their left feet followed by the right foot slide. Then the pair takes a backward step leading with their left feet, then the right feet lead the left with two steps and slides forward. This dance pattern repeats for the duration of the Rabbit Dance song. The texts of Rabbit Dance songs address courtship and romance from a women’s perspective, sung by men.

Throughout North America this Dance appears in various forms. A common variation is the direction of the dance – some First Nation groups dance it counter-clockwise. Singers may also change the internal structure of the Rabbit Dance songs to reflect local preferences. Some powwows showcase couples’ dances such as the Rabbit Dance for the enjoyment of the dancers and the spectacle of something new and different for the audience.

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Indigenous Dance