The term "Naga" is a general one, which covers many tribes of that region. Thus, Nagaland is the home of various hill-tribes and the dances performed by these different tribal communities are altogether, most popularly known as Naga dances. All these dances have been deeply rooted in their environment, occupations, religious beliefs and practices and the social patterns that prevail here. The cultural activities of the Nagas especially the dances, reflect the aspects of the life-style in their rhythmic movements and body language. Their dances are numerous; most of them are war-like and martial in its approach and are always a group-based performance.
Naga Dance of the Zeliang Tribe:
In most of the cases, the Naga dances are monopoly of men, except in Zeliang tribe where women join the men folk in the dances. At the time of a performance, artists first slowly enter the arena or stage with some typical movement or steps and stand in a circle or any other geometrical formation. Then they start adjusting the beats and dance on continues tempo by stamping their feet. Their dances are interspersed by the clapping and chanting of some specified words in chorus. These chanting & shouting gives inspiration to all members.
After they form single circles and make attack on the imaginary enemy or the opposite party with their spears held in the hands. These weapons are swung to the rhythm of the dance, to add more musical background. They also do steps in which they return an imitation of enemy attack and deftly avoid the attack for defense. The beauty of the dances is get added by the colourful costumes, they wear. The Zeliang dance is famous for its artistic nature. The Nagas are dressed in ceremonial war kind of costume and they dance with many silver, brass and iron made ornaments to adorn their look.
Due to regional differences, there are some minor changes in the dancing pattern of the Naga dance. But in general, this dance includes the erect position of body at upper part and the unbent knees always maintain a balance of movements. As the dance proceeds further it exhibits vigor & vitality. The floor patterns they perform during the Naga dances are very much complex and intricate, amongst the tribes of the different part of the region.
After reaching at the climax, the tempo is brought at down again. Thus, there is an increase in the degree of shouts, amount of cries and calls. There is no musical accompaniment for any of the folk dances as the chanting and shouts of the dancers themselves provide the background music. Characterized by huge vigor, steps of flashing spears and attacking stances with styled postures, it is a spectacular performance that only the Nagas can perform.
The Naga Dance of the Zemis Tribe:
The Zemis of the North Cachar hills have many forms of dances, which are performed on various ceremonies, where every dance has a different & specific name. Sometimes these dances are segregated, according to their dance steps, after its resemblance with the birds, insects or even animals. E.g.: Nruirolians (cock dance) resembles the trait of a cock, Gethinglim (cricket dance), is a dance in which hands are moved to and fro as a course of action.
The men usually perform the dances that include the Temangnetin (fly dance) or the Hetateulee (bear dance) only, with the accompaniment of songs and music. The music includes cymbals that are beaten with regular intervals while the singers stand on one side or form a circle so as to allow space for the dancers at center.
In some parts, the Naga dance is performed during the celebration of Nagada festival on the fifth day of the festival. This day is especially devoted to cultural activities like these dances and on this day, all the Nagas dress-up in traditional costumes and visit the village. As the dancers proceed from Khel to Khel, and visit each Renis (morung) with the dance, the whole populations cheer them and the women folk offer them Zeru i.e. rice-beer, meat etc. The men folk also perform the traditional Naga dance on the occasion of the Hornbill festival, which was initiated with a message to preserve the Hornbill, a state bird of Nagaland.
Tribal dances of the Nagas include the war dances and such dances represent a rich folk art form in Nagaland, where the dancers are dressed in colourful costumes and ornaments. However, here, the dances contain many mock war motions that could be very dangerous, if due care is not taken by the dancers, while performing the same. Various occasions like festivals, marriages, harvests, or even ordinary moments of joy are some of the chances where the Nagas enjoy their dances.