The Creeks and Their Dances (2)
By Ghost Dancer
The turkey is a prominent winged figure in Mvskoke culture. Turkey is known for its constant vigilance and quick readiness to fight for its flock; its proud demeanor and its dance of love. The Mvskoke admired the turkey for its flying skills, its ability to lift its heavy body into the trees in heavily wooded lands as well as its hunting abilities. Most importantly, they loved turkey for its size and the abundance of food it provided for the people. Every part of the turkey is used by the people and turkey feathers are more prized than even those of the eagle. Turkey feathers were worn by warriors going into battle.
In very old times the Turkey Dance was a woman’s dance only. Then later, it became a courtship dance between women and men, and a beautiful dance it was with both sides displaying and mimicking the exact movements of the hens and gobblers. Even later, and to the present day, the turkey dance became a men’s only dance. Still a beautiful and athletic display of admiration and honor for the turkey, the men dance with feathers strapped to the shoulders and arms, with wing fans in each hand, and tail feathers attached to the rear end, the men strut as male turkeys, to attract all the females to its beauty, strength, fierceness, and natural beauty. Dipping their shoulders down, first one side and then the next, the dancers drag their feathered arms, throw their chests out and spread their arms with feathers extended just as a gobbler would do in its challenge to all. The dance to honor turkey is danced in a circle counterclockwise on the ceremonial grounds during the green corn ceremony.
When women did the Ceremonial Turkey Dance
Travel back to the days of old time when women did the turkey dance. It was the most beautiful and meaningful dance for the Green Corn, the most important ceremony of the year. After the grounds are cleaned and prepared, the ceremony begins with the women doing the turkey dance. It is important to understand the prominent role of women in our culture. The women not only were highly respected but had prominent positions in society. Our clan mothers made decisions that were the best for their clan. The clan mothers came together and decided what was best for the town. When something was of great concern and affected the nation, all the town clan mothers met and made the decisions. Once these decisions were made they were relayed to the miccos and councils and the men carried out the wishes of the clan mothers. Clan mothers listened to the needs and wishes of their members, so you can see how important women were and still are. Much changed over the years as the old traditions were influenced by male-dominated cultures and their beliefs, so that many today have forgotten the beauty and simplicity of the old ways and traditions.
Now, imagine a Creek town. The central square grounds have been swept all nice and clean. It is midafternoon and the fire is burning; the men and visitors are seated in shelters around the square and the drummers and singers begin as the chosen first four women dancers to come out. For these four, to have been chosen to lead the turkey dance for four years is a great honor and they take much pride in all that they do.
The women’s cheeks have been painted with a mixture of red ochre clay and blackberries that have been picked before they were ripe, accenting their faces like the red-faced turkey hen. Bodies, bare from the waist up, gleam with sweaty streaks of ashes mixed with gray clay with highlights of white clay. Turkey feathers, strapped to the shoulders and upper arms and four turkey wing feathers carried in each hand, mimic the wings of the turkey hen. Skirts made of feathers from the turkey reach just above the knees where lengths of wrapped down feathers are tied, completing the transformation.
The women begin to dance counter clockwise around the square; their movements beautifully mimicking the turkey hen, the special bird they honor and portray. Their bodies move in time with the drum and rattle; arms hanging down at an angle, spread out a little from their bodies, bent forward from the waist. Clucks coming from their throats sound like the hens they are becoming.
Now, with feet dancing in perfect time to the drum, they dip one shoulder down dragging the feathers of that hand near the ground and then switch to dip the opposite shoulder. Then raising up from the waist and stretching their necks upward, the dancers look around as if listening and looking for the mate they are calling for.
With chests thrown out forward, the dancers stop to peer in each direction; they lift their feathers and hands upward briefly before moving on to the next. Four times around the square this will be done before all the women are called to come and join in the dance.
Each has been so anxiously waiting for their time to join in.
All the while, the men look on, smoking, drinking the black drink, and occasionally shouting out encouragement as the women dance into the evening before dark.
Couple’s Turkey Dance
The couple’s turkey dance was both beautiful and romantic. This was a social dance primarily for young men and women; married couples or unmarried, and at some point, even children were invited to join in and participate. Moving in rhythm with the drums or shakers, the men and the women form two separate lines around the square. The dancers all have feathers strapped to their upper arms and shoulders; the women wear feather skirts wrapped around their waists, while the men have feathers strapped at the waist to form a turkey-tail bustle at the back. The men wear beaded breech cloths which hang freely in the front. Each of the women holds four turkey wing feathers in each hand while the men hold a turkey-wing fan in each hand.
Now, the dancers all face each other with a space between each man and woman of about 16 feet to allow space for them to move towards one other, dancing as a turkey would in its courtship ritual. The women begin first, dancing counter clockwise until each one chooses a man in front of them they wish to dance for. Now, many times unmarried women will have several males she may be interested in so she may first dance for one then later move on the circle and dance for another.
Then the males do the same thing; the unmarried ones can dance first for one then continue the circle and dance for another. Imagine the beauty of seeing this in motion, a circle within another circle in the square; all moving, dancing inward and then backward and then moving on to the next if they chose. If they stay in place then they have chosen and been accepted.
The women dance towards the men first; their movements inviting and yet shy at the same time. No touching of the body is allowed; only dancing close and using the feathers to entice, and then dancing back. Now it’s the men’s turn; they dance forward and begin their own strut. Mimicking everything a gobbler would do, they spread their arms slightly outward, bend at the waist, and stick the head upward. Then they stop and throwing their chests out, give out a loud “gobble,” and strut about, showing off their strong athletic physiques and abilities while using the wing fans to brush the females. Will she accept so that he may continue his dance, or must he move on around the circle to try his luck with another?
When you imagine the dance, remember too that our people loved to laugh, and in the dance, there were always those who were gifted at acting out these frolics, deliberately looking for rejections, just to keep all the watchers and dancers laughing and having a great time. When the children were invited to join the dance, they mimicked the motions of the older ones; this way they learned and had fun too.
Ghost Dancer 2017 ©
One thought on “Turkey Dance”
Yes, the Creeks and Chickasaws were an exception in North American, in that they had many dances in which men and women danced together. The missionaries banned the faster, more sensual dances of the young people . . . which were comparable to high school sock hops. We can still those dances in videos from eastern Peru.