Alaska Native Dance

Similarities in the Midst of Diversity

Enduring Understanding

Dance and song are universal human activities that express emotions and tell stories.

Dancing is a participatory event, and most groups end their performances with an invitational dance to which everyone is invited. No special skill or knowledge of particular steps is necessary.

Background

Alaska’s Native people comprise eleven cultures, speaking twenty indigenous languages. Just as each Alaska Native culture is distinctive, so the dances and songs are different from north to south, east to west. In spite of vast differences, there are important similarities:

  • Alaska Native dance groups only perform songs with the permission of the song’s composer or owner, which may be an individual, a group, or a clan.
  • All dance groups credit the composer, the owner, or both before the performance
  • All Alaska Native cultures hold some songs to be sacred or spiritually powerful. These are not generally performed in public.
  • Other songs, including those performed for visitors at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, are sung primarily for entertainment or instruction for the benefit of a wide audience.

To visit another Learning Center that contains an original dance composition, click here.

You will learn about and see videos of dancers from Alaska's five cultural groups in this Learning Center. This map shows the eleven Alaska Native cultures placed into five groups, each of which shares elements related to song and dance.