The Creeks and Their Dances (6)
By Ghost Dancer
The alligator dance is one of the most beautiful, sensual, and time-honored dances of the old days. Alligator is a powerful war clan of the people; an ancient totem spirit and an ancient elder of life from the oldest days.
Ceremonially, young men passed into manhood after going through all the warrior’s training and completing many difficult tasks. For the final test, the young men would now face their most important challenge by dancing with the alligator and defeating it in water and on land.
Boys in warrior training learned ways to subdue the alligator, but at this time the young man would carry out this dangerous feat all alone; he would bring the alligator up to the land from deep water all on his own, and then when he and the gator have rested, he needed to defeat it on land as well in front of the people! Each young man knew that alligator was more powerful, bigger, faster, and more at home in and or out of the water than he was, so this was a dance of life and death; to conquer his fear of a greater warrior than himself. Modern day alligator wrestling evolved from this ancient rite of passage.
When the young men passed this test, they became members of the warrior society. This means they were able to take a wife, to sit in on all discussions, and had a right to speak as a warrior. The alligator was also honored to have been part of these things and gifts of food were offered to them. A great feast and celebration would be held and all the neighboring towns and villages were invited to witness these young peoples’ passage into becoming warriors.
Now the alligator dance would be held and courtship was the prime objective. All the young men who had become warriors were being attended, instructed, and prepared by their clan mothers.
At this time the young warriors let the clan mothers know what young women they were interested in. The clan mothers would send a representative to the young women’s clan to see if they were in agreement, and they would then check the clans’ background of ancestors to be sure there were no close blood relations.
The girl’s clan mother, grandmother and mother, consulted the girl as to whom she might be interested in. Remember, the girl’s clan is looking out for the best interest, not only for the girl, but for the clan. Sometimes the selection of mates benefitted both clans and tied them together more closely. Once these things were known and agreements were made and approved, if the girl so chooses, she can accept the young man’s advances during the dance, and agree to be his wife if he asks her.
If no agreement has been reached, the young men are free to just dance with all the girls and have fun; the girls may also choose to only dance, but not agree to be chosen as a wife just yet.
Preparations for the dance
The young man has been prepared by his family. He wears an alligator skin that has been tanned and scented to be natural. His body has been cleaned and oiled and scented with a love potion given to him by a medicine person to help win the heart of a young woman. He has been practicing the alligator song he will sing to the girl of his choice if he is chosen and accepted by her.
Wearing only the alligator skin and a breech cloth, the young warrior begins taking on the spirit of the alligator; his mind totally focused on calling forth the spirit of the alligator which lives in this skin he now wears.
Meanwhile the young women are all doing the same; being instructed by their mothers, aunts, grandmothers and clan mother; their hair is combed and scented with oils extracted from the flowers, berries and nuts of their own personal choices. Their bodies are also scented with these same oils and perfumes. They too will put on the alligator skins and call forth the powerful spirit of these female alligators. Beneath the skins they wear only a yellow buckskin skirt. They can hear the young men’s bull gator bellows across the way and they too start practicing their gator song. .
The Alligator Dance
The caller calls forth the women to enter the square. Following a slow drum beat, the women dance into the square, one by one, moving counter clockwise in a swaying rhythm motion as if they are actually swimming, their tails swinging behind them. They dance this way four times around the square.
The caller then calls forth the warriors and they enter, moving their bodies as they dance, swaying as the alligator does; swimming in time with the drum, counter clockwise four times around the square.
Now the women begin the female alligator songs as they dance around the square; the men follow, and in a separate circle, begin their own alligator songs. Four times they dance around together, showing off their powers, gifts, and charms.
Then the drum slows and the women allow the men to approach; if she accepts the man’s advance, they dance away together, if not she turns aside and the male moves on. Acceptance does not necessarily mean that they intend to marry; only that she accepts him to dance. The beauty of this dance is that everyone gets to dance with someone. There are always plenty of women and men to participate.
Now when a woman has accepted the male, she turns toward him and dances backward, her tail now drags between her legs. The man embraces her and they dance as one, still with movements of the alligator swimming. Now this is not easily done. The man has to guide her but take care not to step on her tail either. Of course, this does happen sometimes – by accident or just to get the laughter going – and it causes them to fall. This is life. This is the life and power of the alligator, this is strength and power invoked to everyone dancing, and into the new life that will be born from the marriages consummated later on. This dance pays honor to one of the most powerful beings of ancient times that still live amongst us. This is powerful medicine, for it makes our people strong and assures that we will survive just as our relative the alligator has survived. This is the dance of alligator.
Ghost Dancer July 2017 ©