Let’s dance: Boy Scout group honors Cherokee traditions

Bill Dyar has long been interested in Native American dances.

When he was 15 years old, he formed his first dance team growing up in Georgia, and his interest in the Cherokee developed even more having a mother-in-law on the Eastern Band of Cherokee tribal roll.


About three years back, Dyar, who lives in Franklin, helped start up a team of dancers from throughout Western North Carolina that perform the authentic dances of the Cherokee people. Talking with Cherokee elders, researching in libraries and getting help from traditional dancers like Bo Taylor, archivist for the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Dyar and a team of a dozen adults helped launch the Tsali Lodge Dance Team into national prominence. The group took home the National Championship in the Historic Native American Group Dance category at last summer’s National Order of the Arrow Conference held at Michigan State University.

“We came out of nowhere to capture the championship,” Dyar said.

Although the team does not have any Cherokee members in the group, it pays careful attention to promote the authentic Cherokee ways when it performs at competitions and special events. According to Dyar, the group has been getting travel requests to perform all over the country. Among the upcoming highlights will be an invitation to the Snowbird community’s “Fading Voices” event May 26 and a trip to Oklahoma this summer.

“We just consider this to be a huge honor,” Dyar said.

And while the Order of the Arrow dance competitions are exciting — especially when outscoring multi-year national champions — the main goal, Dyar explains, is to represent the Cherokee culture with the highest degree of integrity. At last year’s annual banquet, the Tsali Lodge Dance Team honored two Cherokees — the legendary musician, singer and former dancer Walker Calhoun and Bo Taylor, an award-winning dancer and touring artist promoting Cherokee dances. Afterwards, Taylor led the group in a friendship dance that ended with some of the boys in joyous tears.

“Some wonderful things have happened,” Dyar said. “We’ve really been blessed.”

The Order of the Arrow is a national honor camper organization within the Boy Scouts of America. Part of the mission of the Order of the Arrow is to develop youth leadership, promote outdoor living and perpetuate Native American culture.

“We’re just a group of Boy Scouts that want to do it right,” Dyar said.

Thanks to an anonymous $5,000 donation, the group has been able to upgrade its outfits.

Dancers in the Tsali Lodge Dance Team wear traditional clothing of the 1830’s, the time of Indian removal from the southeastern U.S. The Cherokee removal is known as the Trail of Tears. During the 2006 national competition, judges declared the dancers’ clothing to be of “museum quality.” Individual dance outfits are valued at $1500 each and include traditional clothing items like finger woven sashes, trade bead necklaces, deerskin moccasins, ruffle shirts, and German silver jewelry.

Other parts of the outfits include wool cloth turbans with feather roaches (stripped and dyed feathers). Some wear dyed ostrich feathers. The turtle shell leg rattles, or “shakers,” are worn by the ladies as rhythmic percussion. Gourd rattles and water drums are also used for musical accompaniment.

The dancers perform dances with animal names — bear, quail, buffalo, horse, raccoon and eagle. These dances probably were originated as hunting rituals, but they evolved into social dances, Dyar said.

The dancers range in age from 12 to 20 and includes boys and girls. The Tsali Lodge membership is made up of youth and adults from the 14 westernmost North Carolina counties and the Qualla Boundary. Many of those on the dance team also are members of the Twisted Rawhide Singers. The singing group placed third in the Southern Drum competition at last summer’s National Order of the Arrow Conference.

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