Next week, a Southern Ute tribal elder will give a presentation explaining the cultural and historical significance of the upcoming Bear Dance, an annual event on the reservation.
Russell Box, Sr., who will lead the May 12 workshop at the Ignacio Community Library, refers to the traditional springtime rite as an “awakening of life” through which women are honored.
“I say it’s an awakening of life, because even my own people say it’s a social dance. It’s not that way. It has a lot of meaning and purpose to it,” said Box, who has participated in the dance since childhood. “The Bear Dance tells us to honor the women, but we don’t do that in this society, do we?”
One of the oldest traditional Southern Ute ceremonies, the Bear Dance dates to the 15th century. It is characterized as a “women’s dance” because participating women choose their male partners, which is done by flicking their shawls at the intended dancer. Those who refuse must pay a price to the woman who asked.
“When you spend most of your time inside during the winter, you call it ‘cabin fever,’ and when spring comes you want to participate in things you are familiar with,” Box said. “This is the same thing.”
The Bear Dance will take place May 27 to 30. The ceremonies are open to the public.