1A dance performed by a bear as a form of entertainment.
Earliest in extended use, as a modifier: clumsy.
2Any of various ritual or ceremonial dances practised by indigenous peoples in North America and Northern Asia. Also (more generally): the ceremonial event at which this dance is performed.
There is considerable variation in the form and function of bear dances. They are often performed in spring as bears come out of hibernation with the movements of the dance inspired by those of the bear. Among the Ute, the dancers initially stand facing one another in two rows before splitting into pairs and dancing back and forth in a line while music is performed on the morache. Other dances are performed in a circular motion, as among the Cherokee, Nganasan, and Winnebago. Among other indigenous peoples, such as the Cree and Maidu, dancers perform in bearskins with the purpose of providing protection from illness or bear attacks, while the Khanty and Mansi perform a bear dance and hold a feast following the killing of a bear to seek forgiveness.
Late 18th century; earliest use found in Crisis. From bear + dance.