ADA, Okla. - The songs beckon, both poignant and haunting strains, almost familiar sounding, even to those who have traveled from places which never heard the songs or saw the dancers.
A foot or two in the audience can be seen tapping the carpet to the beat of the drum as the singer leads dancers through the room. Vivid reds, blues, greens and yellows fill the room.
Suddenly the audience is no longer seated in a meeting room of a hotel, the walls disappear and it is transported to a dark, tree-lined clearing, with a blanket of stars over head. Fluorescent lights vanish and beams of moonlight filter though a thick canopy of leaves. It is possible to see dancing firelight-cast shadows on the dancers as the singer chants. When the music stops, observers look as if they have been jolted back to the present.
The Chickasaw Stomp Dancers sing and laugh as they grab members of the audience and bring them into the dance. For those who grew up with traditional pow wow dancing, this is a whole new world. Dancers were giving a demonstration at the end of the National Repatriation Summit in Oklahoma City sponsored by the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. The women's dresses are long in colorful cloth with ruffles and aprons. Men are dressed in boots, jeans and ribbon shirts. There is no buckskin and few feathers, just an occasional one stuck in the hatband. This isn't competition dancing. The Stomp Dance is social dancing.
Over the songs and the drums is a sound like thousands of Jingle Dress dancers echoes in the room. Dancers explain it is from the cans women wear on their legs. They are similar to evaporated milk cans, end to end, filled with objects which make the jingle sound, and then sealed. Cans are stacked one on top of the other, four and five high, then tied with cloth to the outsides of the women's calves.
"The Stomp Dance was originally done by all Five Civilized Tribes," dance leader Larry Seawright said. "It is a social dance and is different from pow wow dancing. We come together in fellowship when we stomp dance."
Stomp dancing can be seen all around Oklahoma, often on Saturday nights. "We dance on Saturday night. Our tribe dances from midnight 'til dawn, other tribes have different times to dance," Seawright said. "We dance around the fire and some consider us to be paganists or devil worshippers, but we are really thanking our Creator. Each dance has different significance."
The Chickasaw have four dances between spring and fall. On July 13-15 they will hold the Renewal Festival at the Kulihoma Grounds, northeast of Ada. "It is like New Year's Eve, it is a new beginning. It used to be that the tribe would pardon all criminals during the Renewal, except for maybe murderers. It was a time to start over," Seawright said.
The Chickasaw Stomp Dancers demonstrations are not only a labor of love and a way of keeping their traditions alive, but a lot of fun.
Winn Harjo from the dance group explains, "It is a lot of fun. We not only come to different functions like this, we go all across the United States and do demonstrations. When we are all together, we have 31 or 32 members. We get to share our tradition with others, it is a lot of fun, too. We are like one big family."
Although the primary reason people stay with the group is because it is fun, the group has entered competition. "We're educators, we go to different schools and teach them about our tradition," Harjo said. "We did go to the 1999 Champions of dance and we won it. I'm proud of that."
Every Tuesday, the group practices. "We have a lot of ladies who are real good shell shakers and men who are singers. They weren't even with us today," Harjo said. "We're having our Renewal soon, people should see that!"