The tradition of the Rain Dance plays a large part in Native American culture. In addition, the costume and steps of a Rain Dance are endowed with great meaning. The movements of the participants in a rain dance are an entreaty to nature for rainfall.
Native Americans depended on their crops for nourishment through the winter. Therefore, a long period of drought in late August that threatened to destroy them was more than enough reason for a tribe to hold a Rain Dance ceremony. One significant characteristic of the ceremonial rain dance is the way in which the dancers are dressed. The ritual features men and women dancers wearing materials that are symbolic of the elements of the weather they're attempting to stir up. For instance, white feathers are attached to the masks worn by the men in order to symbolize the wind. Turquoise jewelry with its shining reflections is also incorporated into the costume to resemble the rain. The men's bodies are painted in tribal colors for the dance. In addition, they wear a fox skin, special beads and moccasins the color of turquoise. A woman dancer's mask features an eagle feather and is fringed with the hair of a goat. A black garment covers each woman leaving only her bare feet visible. She is also covered with a black and white shawl along with one decorated in brilliant colors.
The choreography of a rain dance begins with all of the male dancers in one line and the women dancers in another. The lines are separated by four feet of ground. The male dancers step forward just a few inches with their left foot. Then, lifting their right foot off the ground a few inches they take a second step forward. The women repeat the same steps. Then, all of the dancers turn to the right taking the steps again a total of eight times. There is an alternating loud and soft singing by various dancers in the ceremony. Drums are not used in the ritual. Instead, the rhythm is kept by the sound of the dancers' even steps on the dirt.
The rain dance ceremony was used mostly by the Native American tribes who lived in the southwestern part of the country. In that area extended droughts were frequently accompanied by brutally high temperatures. As the amount of rainfall decreased in the late summer, the tribes there prepared for the rain dance ritual. Some of the tribes in the Southwest include the Pueblos, the Navajos and the Hopi Indians. In fact, the artwork of the Hopi tribe is filled with images of clouds and rain demonstrating the importance of rainfall to their community. The Mojave Indians are also an example of a southwestern tribe that held rain dances in order to bring the water that was so critical to the survival of their families.
The rain dance ceremony is still practiced by some Native Americans today. The long tradition of the rain dance is evidence of a Native American's respect for nature in all its forms.