Delaware Skin Dance

This dance came to the Iroquois when the few score Ohsweken Delaware abandoned their traditions. This was a relatively recent loss as Iroquois men in their 70’s (in 1969) recall dancing in their youth ‘over on Delaware line” (a Reserve road along which the Delaware had clustered) to singing from old Delaware men. The memory is still fresh enough that one singer on the record (George Buck, Ta’negowens…’ Water Splitter’…d. Sept 23, 1976) was able to conclude these songs with an outburst in Delaware recalled from those years. Some older people maintain that these recorded songs came from the Allegany Seneca who danced this more than the O’swaga’hono (Ohsweken people) used to, and that it subsequently returned to its place of origin with these new songs. It has lately been experiencing a period of revived interest and is an especial favourite of the young people. Two men straddle a bench in the centre of the floor, facing each other; two men lead the dance. Accompaniment is by any percussion producing a sharp, loud sound. Usually each singer grips a cow horn rattle by the horn end and beats the wooden end against the belly of a turtle rattle; on occasion some one has supplied the rimless rawhide head of the non-Iroquois type tom-tom (an interesting parallel to the traditional Delaware drum of folded deerskin); a sheet of elm bark is also remembered. Lacking any of these sounding boards the bench itself is struck. On this record rattle handles are beaten against a corn-flakes box! The lead dancer signals his readiness with a yell which is answered by the sitting men present and afterwords by the other men dancers. The women who come forth after 2-3 songs position themselves one between each man, but do not yell as befits their modesty and decorum. The singers take up the beat and the dancers begin with a slow simple flat-footed shuffle of two beats per foot (pat-step). After 4-6 such slow songs the singers increase tempo by a very considerable degree. The step is the same, but now much faster, in time to the singers’ beat. The best dancers become very animated. The tempo is so fast that three such songs are about all that can be manged by the dancers and the singers return to a respite of the slower beat. From here on the singers choose the patterning of slow-fast songs as their whimsy dictates. Towards the conclusion they often attempt exhausting the dancers by an unremitting flow of the fast songs. This soon takes its toll until only the most fit are still able to continue. This is very likely the most arduous and taxing of all Iroquois dances.

Two singers in the middle with sticks as the instruments to make the beat

Beginning songs start out slow and the men take the lead and the women follow in their line behind the men

At the end of the song, the singers end with “yo” and the male dancers respond with “ye”

The beat picks up and the dancers begin dancing with the fish step style

The songs vary, with slower songs and some faster songs, with a skip in the beat and the well seasoned dancer can “jump”, or put in some fancier steps to liven up the dance