Yesterday we just happened to visit the Taos Pueblo on what turned out to be a very special day. The Red Willow People danced. There were corn dancers and deer dancers. It was really quite beautiful. It was cold (at least for a Texan--it stayed in the low 20s), and I felt a little guilty to be uncomfortable in my gloves and coat and scarf while the dancers had one shoulder bared or danced shirtless. I was mesmerized by the dances, and by the people themselves. They were beautiful.
You could tell it was not a production geared to tourists. Not much about it was convenient for onlookers. No one seemed much concerned with announcing anything, or providing explanations for those of us who didn't know what was happening. The Red Willow People danced, and they allowed us to watch. There was no evident timetable, and the cold afternoon stretched on between dances. It was the furthest thing from a slick production that you can imagine. It was real.
The deer dancers wore heads and hides of deer that clearly had not been to a taxidermist. No glass eyes, no look of buckskin treated so thoroughly as to make beautiful clothing like they sell in their shops in the Pueblo. There was a lot of messiness about the hides, and several young boys had to have help getting keeping the unwieldy antlered heads in place. Some of the animals (there were also bison, bobcat, elk and cougar) had tongues sticking out and looked only recently dead. Not what we who buy our meat at the grocery are used to.
There was a group of older men who sang along with the drum, and they seemed tireless. They sang for hours, sitting in a circle facing each other. No microphones. Just singing and drumming.
I felt very lucky to be present at this ceremonial dance. I felt very lucky to see the real thing, the dance of the people of the Pueblo. It was the messiness that drove it home for me and made it an offering rather than a performance. Maybe it is the messiness of life itself that is the best part, the most earnest offering of ourselves.