The Sun Dance is an annual summertime dance that involves dancing around a sacrificial Cottonwood tree. The participants perform a short sweat lodge in the mornings and evenings. Dancers enter the dance arbor at dawn, they dance throughout the day in intervals until evening. This continues for a total of four days without food and water (details and doctrines may vary).
The Sun Dance is sponsored by an individual although each dancer participates for some selfless reason. For the healing of someone, to support a good cause, or for the life of a friend or relative. Dancers pledge to dance annually for four years. Sometimes, during some versions of the dance, piercing of the skin may be involved. Piercing is not required and may vary with individual preference ( according to ones’ own vision ).
After finishing the four year commitment dancers preform a give away. The Give Away is a showering of gifts by a grateful person upon the rest of the community and everyone else present. This is done to say thank you to the spirits as well as the people.
The Sun Dance rite is thousands years old and empowers the people by allowing dancers to give of them selves for the Earth, for others as well as for other selfless reasons. Some elements of the dance have been added recently like the pulling of Buffalo skulls. This was originally done for the atonement of something and was not necessarily part of the dance. that is why it is done outside of the dance arbor away from the the Sun Dance tree. The involvement of the Heyoka, or sacred clown is said to be a recent addition to the dance as well. Long ago women did not dance unless a dancer they supported died before finishing their commitment. There came a time when most of the dancers died and women had to dance to continue the tradition, they have participated ever since.
Like many other details in the spiritual world the fact that they are moving and growing is ample evidence of its’ own sentience and life! The Sun Dance , as a living entity, works well above the human sphere. At its, center is the sun, next is the tree that gave its life. Then there is the Intercessor, medicine man, the woman representing the White Buffalo Calf Maiden and all the dancers. then just as important are the supporters. All of them are guided by the power of the sun in this dance that has its’ own will and volition regardless of anything else.
In the old days, a band of people would sponsor their spiritual leader or any one capable of accomplishing the dance, and have that person dance to help them, to sacrifice for them to improve their survival and well being. There was one Lakota Sun Dance yearly immediately following the main tribal council representing the entire tribe. One can clearly see by this, that dancing was not done to prove ones self or to gain spiritual advancement. The Sun Dance should be done by those who are responsible for other peoples’spirituality (by spiritual leaders). One should only dance for some selfless reason and never for your own gain. it is true that by doing the Sun Dance one gains a spiritual connection, but this is only the case for those who do so selflessly. Spiritual gifts then, are more of a by-product of dancing than the motive for it.
The sun Dance has grown unbelievably across the Americas and is practiced abroad by Representative’s of 53 different countries. Despite controversy, the Sun Dance has become an international spiritual path and will continue to flourish with the sun’s help.
The Native American tribes who originally practiced this dance were: The Arapaho, Arikara, Assiniboine Cheyenne, Crow, Gros, Ventre, Hidatsa Sioux, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibway, Sarasi, Omaha, Ponca, Ute, Shoshone, Kiowa, and Blackfoot tribes. Their rituals varied from tribe to tribe. Today, the Sun Dance has survived colonization through it’s secretive practice, despite being illegal until recently.
The importance here is to remember that there is no right or wrong way to pray as long as you respect the teaching of the elders who brought it to the people. Do this by keeping it sacred, not blending it with foreign concepts, and understanding its’ history! The Sun Dance was given to the Lakota people by the White Buffalo Calf Maiden along with the Seven Sacred Rites hundreds’ of years ago according to Lakota records painted on buffalo hides!
The Sun Dance itself, according to Archaeologists, may have started any where from about 4,000 to 14,000 years ago. Countless thousands of pipes have been unearthed from the Hopewell culture in the Ohio Valley, some of which represent woolly mammoth and manatee!