Return To My Allegories Index

The Hidden Language Of The Soul, Statement

The Hidden Language Of The Soul
What do you talk about at family gatherings or around around the dinner table, especially during cultural holidays? Telling stories of events and previous gatherings may often elicit outbursts of laughter, joy, sorrow, remembrance. If the group is especially passionate, one member may try to mimic or recreate a poignant moment in time. Perhaps a familiar tune from that event may also be sung to commemorate the activity. The responsibility of the elders of a family or an ethnic group is to teach the young the value of specific moments in time as a means to preserving generational continuity. However, one activity that has always been particularly expressive of these ethnic values and traditions is the dance. Martha Graham once said that “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.”

Storytelling in dance, especially for the Native American performer, is a means of exploring ways in which the body can convey meaning, intent and interpretation. It becomes a tool used for communication and expression – to perform a narrative or a journey, participate in the cycles of nature, mourn, pray and celebrate. Agnes De Mille once said “The truest expression of a people is in its dance and in its music.”

In this series, the dancer here tells a story through his hand movements, footwork, and facial expressions. The stories are often about the land or the people in his tribe and become a means to pass down history and knowledge from one generation to the next.

Movements of the participant illustrate the purpose of the performance — expressing prayer, victory, thanks, mythology, and more. Starting slowly, his body is relaxed with knees slightly bent. His steps are grounded and emphasize his connection with the earth. The sounds of his leg rattles resemble the sounds of rattlesnakes.

His motions are his own interpretation that mimic demonstrations of bravery, tracking an enemy or hunting. These are used in a combination of steps and upper-body motions. While often crouched, the dancer has his own way of moving and steps forward with a quietly powerful presence. Each of his gestures tells part of his story. Communicating through movement, the footwork and gestures are always attuned to the tempo of the song and to the drum’s pulsing heartbeat, that is, to “the sound of the vibrating earth.”

The artist sometimes appears wearing a robe with his crest. Crests are animal emblems, or totems, which identify clan members. These symbols honor ancestral encounters in the history of the clan. With his elbows bent outward to spread open his robe, the portrayer circles the area with shoulders, chests and hips turning to the right and then to the left, and occasionally strikes positions facing towards or away from the audience, dancing more robustly, frequently crouching and turning his head from side to side. When he has entered the performance space and the song ends, the dancer turns his back to the audience, to display the crest that explains his existence in the world.

*** Any image found in this series or on my website is available as a print purchase! Just email me at

Return To My Allegories Index