During my trip in Wyoming I had a privilege to meet with and photograph an award-winning Native American dancer, Levon Big Knife. Levon is Chippewa-Cree and Shoshone (tribes based on western states such as Montana and Wyoming) and has been preforming “chicken dance” for over a decade.
There are many types of dances among Native American tribes – the dance of rain, hope, love, grass, peace, war, nobility, and there is a prairie grouse dance (chicken dance).
All Western tribes cerebrate grouse species with a version of chicken dance. The legend has it that one of young men who’s been watching prairie grouse courtship dance in springtime was given the power to dance like them by his spirit helper. The spirit empowered the dancer to cerebrate life and spirit of grouse with his dance. This traditional dance has been passed on from generation to generation until these days.
Levon also told me many stories about Native Americans’ dances I never knew before. He said the dance has to be “shown and taught” – of course you can choose to do the dance, but to be a true dancer, it has to be given.
His traditional version of the dance was a “giving” by his uncle, whose dance was passed on from his great grandfather. His first dance at the competition was so moving that it brought tears to his grandmother and his family. His grandmother even called him “dad” since his appearance and dance move resembled so much of his great grandfather’s. His regalia was handmade by his grandmother and relatives as a way to honor him and continue the traditional dance of his family.
Watching him dance at early dawn over a hilltop in Wyoming was one of the most spiritual moments I’d ever experienced. It gave me a vision of the time when the West was still wild, and wildlife still roamed freely – when the landscape was still unbroken and undisturbed.