Kinsee Morlan: The southern Ute Bear Dance is really a beautiful thing to see. A dance steeped in meaning and tradition, it's a lady's choice dance, which means the women take the floor first. Then, when the singers give them the signal, the women move across the floor toward the men. They remove their traditional shawls and swat the men lightly with the fringe, which means it's time to dance. The men typically oblige, because if they don't, they have to pay; literally, with whatever the girl requests: money, a nice beaded necklace maybe, but mostly the men say yes and the dancing begins.
Mathew Box: Occasionally these women travel together and they'll hit you with that shall, that's how they pick you. It won't hurt. Laughter. Kinsee: That was Mathew Box, the Bear Dance chief, at a workshop earlier this week. Matthew concisely laid out the Bear Dance etiquette to a crowd of a hundred or so at the Sky Ute Casino. The three-hour long workshop touched on a lot of the ins and outs of the dance, which is steeped in tradition and meaning, both social and spiritual. But what he didn't get to mention to the crowd was that his parents, Eddie Jr. and Betty Box, met and fell in love at a Bear Dance over 40 years ago. Here's Eddie Box Junior.
Eddie Box Jr.: The Bear Dance has always been a part of my family, my mom and dad, and that's how I learned the rules of the Bear Dance. When I was young, that's when I learned that the importance of the Bear Dance was mostly directed toward the female, she was the one that had, I guess you call it, the gift to choose who she wanted to dance with.
Betty Box: His looks. Laughter. I always tell him I'm married you for your looks. Laughter.
Kinsee: That's Betty Box on why she picked Eddie from the crowd.
Betty: Us women when we hear it just getting started, that's our que to go and get our shawls and just hope that no one picks the one, like me, with my lover, that no one picks him. I just admired him and I would pick him constantly. I even remember us two always dancing the last dance. So the singles dance. Yes, and there was no one to relieve us because I didn't want anyone to relive us. Or at least I didn't. And, I just remember, that's how we actually got to know each other.
Kinsee: That Bear Dance Betty described happened in 1965. In December of that year, the two got married. And now, almost 43 years later, when they go to the Bear Dance, they aren't allowed to dance together. Bear Dance Ettiqute doesn't allow relatives or spouses to dance with one another, and as both Betty and Eddie explain, it's a tradition that has actually helped them in their happy marriage. Eddie: After we got married, we couldn't dance together anymore. And that comes to the second teaching that I think helped me. We'd both go down there to help my father and she would dance with other males. And I think that's the second teaching, that if you see your honey or your wife dancing with another man, you got to not be jealous and it kind of builds your love for each other.
Betty: It teaches you to respect each other as men and wife and sisters and brothers and blood brothers. And in our Indian way, we are related to each other. But when you're really, really related, it brings the family together. The jalousies, the things that happen in real life, they disappear. And you learn how to really love each other, what love is all about and peace and harmony and the respect for the man and the respect for the women and it teaches you that.
Kinsee: There's a lot more to the Bear Dance than the social, romantic side.
There's a spiritual side and a more that can be observed when the Bear Dance gets underway this weekend. Reporting for KSUT Public Radio from the Southern Ute Indian reservation in Ignacio, Colorado, I'm Kinsee Morlan.© Copyright 2017, ksut