Mountain Spirit Dancers


The Chee Family Mountain Spirit Dancers

These are photos of the Chee family Mountain Spirit dancers as they performed a public ceremony at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Each spring, for the past 13 years, the Chee family has been hired by the Living Desert to perform a public ceremony and lead a traditional mescal roast. Mescaleros are generally opposed to photographing the Mountain Spirit dancers, but given the public and cross-cultural nature of this particular event, photographs are allowed at certain times within the ceremony.

Mountain Spirits perform nighttime ceremonies for either two or four consecutive nights. This ceremony was a two night ceremony. Each night that the dancers perform they are painted with different designs on their torsos. In these photographs we can see the design that this group uses on its first night. Descending at an angle across the chests and backs of these dancers is an iconographic representation of the "four sacred mountains." Not only do these designs have particular meanings, but all aspects of Mountain Spirit dancer designs and costumes are similarly understood to carry particular meanings that are group dependent. Each group has four "Crown Dancers," which are seen in these photos, who are dressed and designed identically each night. These four dancers are understood as embodiments of the four directions.

Dance groups also feature between one and four "Clowns," one of which can be seen in the photo above. These figures are usually danced by younger boys and have a very different meaning and function than the more formal "Crown Dancers." They tend to perform amusing antics and play a less structured ceremonial role, which has earned them the designation of being "clowns." Collectively, these dancers perform blessings and healings and engage in a number of highly choreographed ceremonial performances.


Western Apache Mountain Spirit dancers

For comparison, here is a photo of some Western Apache Mountain Spirit dancers. These dancers come from the San Carlos Apache reservation in Arizona. Each summer the Mescaleros have a public ceremony and parade on the fourth of July and the San Carlos dancers are a regular feature of the parade. Unlike Mescalero Mountain Spirit dancers, San Carlos dancers can appear in the day. Mescalero Mountain Spirits only come out at night. Also, Mescaleros are very adverse to having their dancers perform in public entertainment spectacles and therefore, somewhat ironically, would never allow their dancers to appear in a parade. They always appreciated having the San Carlos dancers however, who tend to get the most applause out of all the participants featured in the annual parade.


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