Indigenous dancing inspires connections during cold season

Staff Writer
Published: 2/5/2023 3:19:47 PM

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Community College’s dining commons was filled with more than 100 dancers on Saturday as part of the Nolumbeka Project’s Full Snow Moon Gathering and Eastern Woodlands Social Dance.

Saturday marked a particularly special occasion, as it was the first time the event has been held since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the first time we were able to resume the dance,” said David Brule, chair of the Nolumbeka Project and a member of the Nehantic Nation. He said the social dance is a great way to get people out of their houses to come together during the cold winter months, and Saturday’s event had just as good a turnout as the Nolumbeka Project’s first dance in 2020.

The social dance celebrates what the Abenaki Nation calls the piaodagos moon, which translates to “the moon that breaks branches.” This full moon name refers to the harsh winds in February that make branches fall off the trees, and was perhaps particularly fitting given the high wind chills and low temperatures the region experienced on Friday and Saturday.

Today, many people describe the February full moon that reached peak illumination on Sunday as the snow moon, according to Rich Holschuh, a member of the Elnu Abenaki Nation and director of the Atowi Project in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Brule noted a representative from the Nipmuc Nation was also present at Saturday’s dance, signifying the region’s intertribal nature.

“We endeavor to have intertribal gatherings,” he said.

Andre StrongBearHeart Gaines Jr., a citizen of the Nipmuc Nation, led a series of dances along with other cultural leaders. In leading the mosquito dance, Gaines explained that many people have a negative association with the insect that feeds on human blood, but his ancestors were able to see the sharing of blood as a symbol of friendship. This partner dance involves spinning and quick foot movements to the beat of a drum.

Another dance done at Saturday’s gathering was called the hunting dance or duck dance. Two lines are formed, one with women lined up single file, and another with men in pairs. The dance starts with the men going forward, symbolizing hunters, and the women going back, symbolizing ducks. When the music changes, the pairs of men make bridges with their hands and the women go under the bridges. When the music stops, the men drop their hands, trapping the women, which symbolizes catching a duck on their hunt.

This fast-paced dance sent people running in circles, and in one case a dog chasing behind, inspiring laughter and smiles throughout the room.

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or


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