Stomp Dance

Stomp dancing is an important aspect of Chickasaw culture. Historically, stomp dancing has its roots in the Green Corn Ceremony, springtime celebrating harvest, redemption and forgiveness. Men sing stomp dance songs in a call-and-answer format, following a male song leader, who often sets the dance rhythm using a handheld turtle shell rattle.

Women enhance the rhythms with shakers made from box turtle shells worn on their legs. The use of turtle shells is intended to show respect and gratitude to the animal world for providing so many good things for the people.

Chickasaws believe that the fire at the center of the dance circle is the embodiment of Aba' Binni'li' (the Creator) on earth and that the smoke carries our prayers to the Creator. Stomp dancers move counterclockwise around the fire, so their hearts are closest to the fire, and the smoke lifts their prayers to Aba' Binni'li'.

Stomp dance demonstrations by tribal dancers can also be seen every day at the Chickasaw Cultural Center. The Chickasaw Cultural Center is located at 867 Cooper Memorial Drive, Sulphur, Oklahoma 73086. Traditional stomp dances take place at Kullihoma Grounds, which is located 10 miles east of Ada, Oklahoma, on Hwy. 1.

Contact the Cultural Resources office at (580) 622-7140 for more information concerning Kullihoma stomp dances.

Description of Social Dances:

Honoring Chickasaw Warrior:
To begin this ceremony, tobacco is put on hot coals. Then, an elder or a veteran says a prayer giving thanks to the creator for the warrior's return and for those who aren't coming. After using body wash for purifying, an elder, veteran or a medicine man smokes the warrior with cedar, cleansing him to forget all bad memories and removing anything bad that had come home with him.

To honor a Chickasaw warrior is to recognize him in front of his people—to show his greatness and to let it be known to all. There is an honor song and honor dance in the people's presence for what he has done. An honored warrior is presented with an eagle feather for high honor, and a blanket is put upon his shoulders in honor of the people. The people and friends give a gift if they desire, and if they have nothing to give, a handshake is appropriate in recognizing the warrior’s actions. In addition, a feast is given in honor of the one who is recognized, along with the ones of the past, present and those who are going to war.

Gar Fish Dance:
This song and dance appears to be one of the last remaining traditional  Chickasaw dances. It is traditionally associated with the Green Corn Ceremony, in which the teeth of a garfish are used in the purification ritual connected with the ceremonies. This dance is performed in pairs of alternating gender (man, woman, man, woman, etc.) in a circle, while holding hands, with the lead singer in the center. There should be six men and six women, with additional pairs if needed. At some point in the song, the lead singer beats the drum hard three or more times, and the man and woman swing each other around counter clockwise, with the woman stopping in front of the man and exchanging partners, ending up woman, man, woman, man, etc. This will continue until all dancers end up with the partner with whom they started.

Stealing Partners:
In the past, this dance was done with only young men who were eligible for marriage, as the young women watched and waited to be stolen by their suitors. The young men danced in a line of circular motion while one of the elders sang the Stealing Partners song. Then, one of the young men would let out a yell, run out and take his mate by the hand, escorting her back into the circle to finish the dance. This was repeated until all the young men had picked a young woman who he wished to marry. At the end of the song, all the young men and women would answer the singing elder.

Today, it is a social dance done in a similar manner. The women line up after the men as they go out and steal a partner. It is a beautiful way to meet, and everyone is encouraged to participate.

Four Corners:
The number four plays an important role in Chickasaw people’s lives. Examples include the four directions of the earth and the four seasons. Even in the stomp ground circle, the four arbors are set in the four directions of the compass. The Four Corners dance begins with the lead singer and his followers facing east. As the person standing next to the lead singer yells four times, the followers answer him, returning the yell. This is called the awaking. Starting with the lead singer, the song begins, and they all join hands, following him as he leads them in the four directions of the circle. After the four directions are completed, they end up in the center at the fire and finish with a stomp dance.

Snake Dance:
The dance is not to honor the snake, but to respect it, for it is a creature of the earth. Chickasaws learned the way of the snake by watching how it crawls to hunt its prey. It is believed that the snake has no fear, will strike at any time and is a patient hunter.

The dance is started with one singer, and he sings to the beat of a drum or a rattler. The other dancers line up with a lead man dancer acting as the head of the snake, followed by the lead women shell shaker, then a man, woman and so forth, all holding hands. They form a long line, and the singer plays the part of prey. The lead singer chants the song while the dancers answer him back, both men and women. The dancers then follow the lead dancer as he imitates the movement of the snake, circling the lead singer as if closing in to capture its prey for the feast. The snake dance is one of the oldest-known Chickasaw dances and has been passed on to successive generations.

Stomp Dance:
The traditional stomp dance is the most well-known dance of the Southeastern tribes. We believe our ceremonial songs and dances have been a part of tribal custom since time began. The dance is announced by one of the ground leaders as he speaks to let the other clans know who is going to lead the song. The lead singer makes his way toward the fire with his lead shell shaker and is followed by the rest of the clans or people who follow him into the circle in alternating gender (man, woman and so forth). The women wear traditional turtle shells or the updated version, cans, on their calves to help keep the rhythm of the song. The dance is performed counterclockwise around the fire.

The lead singer will let out a yell to awaken the Creator, and as he lets out the second yell, all the other men answer as if the Creator is speaking through them. The leader then goes into his chant, during which only the Creator knows what is said. It is also believed that the lead singer’s chants or prayer chants are answered in four days. Depending on the seriousness of the leader and if he is asking for himself or the other clan people, the Creator may grant what was asked.

Friendship Dance:
The friendship dance is a greeting for two clans or tribes coming together, so there will be no war between them. Either clan or tribe can farm, hunt and fish on the same land without fear of a battle. It also helps to protect their villages. The friendship dance is still alive today among the Chickasaw people. We welcome all visitors to join in this social dance, so that all people can live in harmony with one another. It is often the first dance performed and most popular among visitors.

The dance is started in the east side of the circle with the men facing east and the women facing the men, which will be west. One of the men standing next to the lead singer gives four yells, answered by the other men, at which time the lead singer starts the song. The lead singer turns to his left, extending his hand to the lead woman shell shaker, and the others then follow, going in a counter-clockwise motion. After the friendship dance has been sung, the men and women remain in line to follow it with a stomp dance lead by the same leader that started the friendship song.

Doubleheader Dance:
This dance has two leaders, with the same number of men on each side of them, forming a long line with the two leaders in the center of the line. This formation is repeated by the women, with the two lead shell shakers in the center and the same number of women on each side. The dance is performed with the men facing east, the women facing the men and all of them located on the east side of the stomp ground circle. After the two leaders pace from east to west four times, the men will part in opposite directions and join hands with the women. One line moves clockwise, and the other, counterclockwise. They continue moving in the opposite direction making a complete circle around the fire in the larger stomp ground circle until the two leaders come together and face each other, at which time they exchange songs (or take turns) and alternate between singing and chanting.

Both men and women answer the chant. This will continue until three rounds have been made, and on the fourth round, the two leaders come together. Both go in the same direction, side-by-side, counterclockwise, until one last complete circle is made around the fire. A yell completes the Doubleheader Dance.

Duck Dance:
The dance is performed with the men, side-by-side, in lines of two, facing the women, who are also in lines of two. The lead singer stands to the side as the dancers form a line with the men on one side and the women on the other. When the lead singer starts the song, all the dancers move their feet in a side-to-side motion. As the song continues, the lead singer makes a change in the song with the drum or rattle. The first two lead men dancers lift their arms for the first two women to go under. The men then drop their arms while the next two women in line face them and make the sound of a duck quacking. This continues until the song or dance is completed. This dance is performed to give thanks to the Creator for fowl as food.

Drinking Water Dance:
This dance is performed in a line with all members standing side-by-side and locking arms, except for the lead singer. As the lead singer moves forward, then backward, the other dancers follow him in alternating gender (man, woman, man, woman and so forth). They start moving in the same motion, creating a wave as if it is water.

There can be two lines or more in this dance. As the dance begins moving back and forth, the dancers all start going in a counterclockwise circular motion until the song is completed or another singer begins a new song. This is a ceremonial dance for the people reminding them not to stray from their culture and beliefs and encouraging them, so they may stay strong in their lives.

Last Updated: 12/15/2016