The slow beat of the circular skin drums quickens after the Welcome Dance has signaled the start of the Potlatch. Two dancers, each wearing a sea-serpent headdress and cape, take to the floor of the “big-house” in front of the assembled guests. Excitement quickens with the pounding drums for this is a fast paced, complex dance only performed by those highly skilled in the dance art.
With hands on his hips, the cape flares out as the body of each dancer twists like the serpent. The singing keeps pace with the drumming. The two serpents twist and writhe around each other, capes constantly swirling and flashing in the leaping firelight flames. Tradition demands that the headdress be tilted upwards throughout the entire dance. To allow it to drop would be to shame the dancer and the family having the right to the serpent crest.
The dancers separate, capes still whirling to the fast drum beat. With head held high, flashing this way and that, they move away in opposite directions before advancing to the centre again. There, interacting to each other, they skillfully twist their bodies in serpent-like fashion, moving one around the other. Through dance they have, in essence, been transformed into serpents.
The Serpent Dance is repeated until danced four times.
The writhing movement and up-tilted headdress of the Serpent Dancer is beautifully expressed in this design by Joe David which catches the dancer in mid-twist, hands on hips. Notice one arm and hand is human, the other depicts the claw of the sea serpent, symbolic of the transformation from human to creature, as is the human head at the tail of the serpent. Design elements within the body represent the rib cage.
Joe David was born in 1946 at Opitsaht, a Clayoquot village on Meares Island, on the western shore of Vancouver Island. The family resettled to Seattle, Washington, in 1958—and they moved frequently during his teen years. His father, Hyacinth David, was a respected chief and elder of the Clayoquot nation, and even though he had removed his family from Nuu-chah-nulth territory, he remained connected to the village and practiced the traditional values and ceremonies.
Spirit Wrestler Gallery
101-1669 West 3rd Ave.
Canada V6J 1K1
Toll Free: 1-888-669-8813
one block West of the Granville Island gates
Between Pine St. and Fir St.
Tuesday to Saturday, open 10-5
Sunday and Holidays, open 12-5
© 2019 Spirit Wrestler Gallery. All Rights Reserved.