Fire Dance, detail, early 1990s, Mary Black, ET513.96 Photo: Kirstin Roper, © NHMU

Fire Dance

Iłnáázt’i’ (the Fire Dance) takes place just before dawn at the close of the Dził Biyiin (Mountain Chant), a nine-day healing ceremony held in late winter. As the central fire is burning down to embers, young men drag huge trees to feed the fire. Dancers, whose bodies are covered in white clay, rush into the circle, leaping and waving their arms and legs. They make the sounds of a crackling fire with their tongues and carry large bundles of cedar bark that they ignite with coals at the base of the fire. When the bundles are burning, the dancers throw some to the east and then to the other four directions in turn. Then they flick their own and each other’s bodies with the flaming cedar bundles as they dance around the fire. Later, spectators gather up bits of the burned cedar which offer protection against fire for the coming year.