Tribal Dance: Dancing Your Prayers - The Deepening: Communing with Spirit

Kindling the Native Spirit: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life - Denise Linn 2015

Tribal Dance: Dancing Your Prayers
The Deepening: Communing with Spirit

When I was in the outback of Australia, I went to a corroboree (tribal gathering) not far from Ayers Rock. This is an Aboriginal gathering with songs and symbolic dances. The corroboree lasted for several days. I was there at the invitation of a friend who worked for the Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal Women’s Council. For each dance, the dancer or dancers would emerge from behind a kind of screen or branches, their bodies decorated in the traditional designs of that particular dance. At one point I was called up to join a woman’s dance. (Men and women danced separately.) Behind the screen I was told to take off my top, as the women’s dances were done with a bare chest. I felt exposed, but I took off my top anyway. An old Aborigine woman with very dark skin and very white teethed smiled as she took traditional paint made from ochre and clay and decorated my breasts.

When the music started, my friend from the council, the old woman who adorned me, and I emerged from behind the branches that had been screening us from the others. As an observer, the dances had seemed simplistic, but as I struggled to emulate the dance, I realized that the steps weren’t easy at all. However, when I let go of needing to get it right and just listened to the rhythmic chanting, the sound of the didgeridoo, and the cadence of the click sticks, the rhythm carried me away. I felt at once connected to the vast sky overhead and the red earth beneath my feet. In that moment I felt connected to all native dancers, for it was through the dance that we were all connecting with the heartbeat of Mother Earth.

I had a similar experience during my time with the Zulu in Africa. The women felt it was important that I dance with them. They said dancing would bind us together. We put rattles—made from soda-pop tops—around our ankles. The men drummed while the women danced and although I felt awkward trying to match their steps, the sound of the drums took over, and it felt like I dissolved into the land. It felt familiar and even comforting, as if a forgotten memory had arisen, and I had always danced on the red earth with my Zulu sisters.

Tribal dancing is done for myriad purposes, from the mundane to the mystical. One might dance to celebrate, express daily life, or bring people together. There are also love dances, warrior dances, rites of passage dances, and welcoming dances. Dances to call Spirit can be some of the most meaningful. They might be performed to summon the spirit of plants, ancestors, deities, or even the Creator. Every native culture throughout the world has had a form of tribal dance, and you too can create your own form of tribal dance. It’s a way to share feelings and passion, but in a deeper sense, it’s a way to connect with the greater forces of the world. Spiritual dancing can also be used for worship and healing. For when you dance to the beat of the drum or click sticks or even recorded rhythmic music, part of your individual identity can seem to disappear as you enter a wider and vaster universe.



When people hear the word trance, there is often a negative connotation. However, trance dancing is simply getting into a kind of meditative state in which you dissolve out of your limited experience of yourself. Using rhythm and body movements, your mind stops and your heart opens. This kind of dance has been integral to ceremony and gatherings in many earth-based cultures for thousands of years. While dancing one might encounter a spirit being or shape-shift into the moon, the stars, an animal, or a plant. One might step into the next realm or have a transformative experience. This form of dancing can be a visible demonstration of reverence.

The San people (Aboriginal Bushmen from Southern Africa) believe that their trance dancing invites supernatural potency into their lives by inviting the Creator to come forward. The women sit around a fire and clap and sing particular rhythms while shamans dance. As the rhythmic sound intensifies, it’s believed that their energy begins to “boil” and then expand out of the top of their heads at which time they enter into the spirit world and can summon rain, help hunters find food, and heal those who are ailing.


Although there are many forms, both modern and ancient, you can create a trance dance for yourself in this way:

1. Put on some rhythmic music. It can be any of the music from native cultures worldwide. You can also play music that is more modern but has a rhythmic, continuous beat. Some modern-day musicians create music specifically for trance dancing.

2. Close your eyes (you can even put on a blindfold if you wish), and allow the music to flow over you. Without moving, notice the images, memories, and emotions that begin to emerge. Don’t encourage them or deny them . . . just watch them flow by and through you.

3. Scan your body and notice where you can feel the vibration or the beat, and then allow that part of your body to respond. Allow that movement to expand until your entire body is responding to the beat.

4. Let go. Don’t think about it. Allow the movement to become you. You may choose to dance for a few minutes or a few hours. Do what feels right to you.

5. When you’re finished, let yourself gently collapse onto the floor or into a chair. The dancing can serve to open a mystic portal for you to step into other realms and for those in other realms to contact you. With your eyes still closed, observe what messages, images, feelings, and memories arise.

6. Journal your experience and keep it for future reference.