Seminole Stomp Dance
  • Lakota dance
  • Seminole dance
  • Hopi dance

The Stomp Dance is part of the Green Corn Ceremony, a four-day gathering held each year to mark the renewal of seasons and express gratitude to the Creator for providing food and life. Along with many southeastern American Indian tribes—including those that were relocated to Oklahoma in the 1800s—the Seminole of Florida have long practiced the Green Corn Ceremony, and it is the center of traditional Seminole religion and social customs. A separate ceremony is held in each Seminole community.

Generally, the medicine man, who is from the Panther Clan, decides each year when the ceremony will be held. The date is set for late spring or early summer, based on the dates of the full moon. The Bird Clan oversees logistics and maintains the ceremonial site. Historically the Bird Clan also chose the site itself, but today each Seminole community holds its ceremony in the same place every year.

Once the date has been established, a stick man is selected. The stick man works with the medicine man and the Bird Clan, assuming the role of master of ceremonies. Since the stick man usually is popular and outgoing, it is not difficult for him to be the motivator. During the Green Corn Ceremony, he will move through the crowd, calling out to those who are not participating. Obviously, the stick man gets his name from the stick he carries. The stick—his motivational tool—is a palmetto branch taken from the thatched roof of the chickee chubee, the biggest chickee (a traditional Seminole open-air house) on the ceremonial grounds. The stick man also announces each dance as it begins.

Stomp dance is a non-Native term that refers to the stomp-and-shuffle of the dance structure. In the Cow Creek (Muscogee) language the dance is called opvnkv hacogee, which means drunken, crazy, or spirited dance. Since the Stomp Dance is a social dance, all community members—men, women, and children—are encouraged to participate. The introductory dance to the Green Corn Ceremony, it is meant to energize the community for other Corn Ceremony events and dances. It is not meant to be physically challenging but, rather, to be a positive, encouraging experience for young and old alike. During the first few evenings of the ceremony, stomp dancing takes place five or six times before midnight. On the last evening, an all-night Stomp Dance brings in the new year and a time of renewal.

The Stomp Dance is led by the tribe’s senior men, each in turn assuming leadership responsibility. The lead man calls out the verses, and the other men respond. The dance continues for at least four rounds, or four songs, which include as many as twenty-three verses. The lead men use the Stomp Dance to teach boys and younger men the songs, the language, and the traditions of dance.

At least one woman (usually many more) supports the male dancers, carrying the rhythm by stomping with her shell shakers. Tied to the legs, shell shakers are traditionally made from box-turtle shells. Since the early 1900s, shell shakers also have been made from condensed milk cans. Male and female dancers alternate in the dance line, with children usually tagging on at the end. Today, as the Stomp Dance becomes increasingly popular, however, many youths perform with such enthusiasm that they intermingle with the adults. As the dancers shuffle with short steps, they form a continuous spiral, which circles counter-clockwise around the fire. More than a hundred participants may join in. Their increasing energy creates a wind that forces the smoke upward. The swirling smoke carries the song’s message up to the Creator, who blesses and approves of the message, song, and dance.

Everyone who participates in the Stomp Dance at the Green Corn Ceremony wears their best Indian patchwork clothing. Traditional Seminole patchwork is made of brightly colored strips and geometrically shaped pieces of cloth sewn together. The fabric is made into jackets, shirts, and capes. Because the ceremony marks a time of renewal, new shirts are sewn for men, and women wear their finest-quality patchwork skirts. Everyone looks their best.

The Green Corn Ceremony has always been a part of life for the Seminole, and the Stomp Dance is one part of the Corn Ceremony that continues to reinforce Seminole social traditions. More and more Seminoles are participating in the Stomp Dance, proof that the traditional way of Seminole life will never disappear.

—Willie Johns

Willie Johns (Seminole) is a historian for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. He raises cattle on the Brighton Reservation on the western side of Lake Okeechobee. Born in Okeechobee, he received a degree in history from Palm Beach Atlantic College, and he has an associate’s degree in animal husbandry from Abraham Baldwin College in Tifton, Georgia. He is the outreach director for the Brighton Reservation’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and a member of the Panther Clan within the tribe, which traces its roots to the Creek tribes of the Southeast. He has been attending the Green Corn Ceremony all his life.

During the Green Corn Ceremony, Seminole men, women, and children wear their finest patchwork clothing, often newly created. The patchwork clothing for which Seminoles are so well known came about in the early decades of 1900s, when they adopted the sewing machine. Women’s (and girls’) traditional dress consists of a full, floor-length skirt and matching cape. Both are composed of contrasting colors of cloth and rickrack, and both include horizontal bands of patchwork, which may consist of alternating squares, rectangles, diamonds, diagonals, crosses, or meandering motifs. During Stomp Dances, women’s leg rattles provide rhythmic accompaniment to the men’s singing. The leg rattles are traditionally made out of turtle shells filled with pebbles, though cans may also be used. Most men’s traditional attire consists of a patchwork shirt or jacket worn with trousers. Men who lead the Stomp Dance, however, may wear what’s known as a long shirt, an older style that incorporates bands of colored patchwork.

2011. Made by Danielle Howard. Weston, Florida. Cotton. 26/8783. Necklaces, 1908 and 1927. Florida. Glass beads, cotton string. 1/7932, 15/3223 and 15/3224. Turtle shell leg rattles, 1986. Turtle shell, pebbles, leather. EP0951. Photograph by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI.

  • Seminole Stomp Dance

    Seminole Stomp Dance, Florida, 1980. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida. FP80156

  • Seminole Stomp Dance

    Seminole Stomp Dance, Big Cypress Reservation, Florida, ca. 1967–1971. Courtesy of the Ah-Tha-Thi-Ki Museum, with special permission from photographer David Garnett

  • Seminole Stomp Dance

    Seminole Stomp Dance, Big Cypress Reservation, Florida, ca. 1967–1971. Courtesy of the Ah-Tha-Thi-Ki Museum, with special permission from photographer David Garnett

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