The young woman dances effortlessly on the red hot coals, showing no hesitation as bare, unprotected feet touch glowing rock. No flesh burns, no skin chars at the contact, no lungs are scorched by the glowing ember-laced air. Fire is her friend, its heat a comfort, the shimmer of super heated air about her a dance partner’s loving caress as she focuses with single-minded concentration on moving her body through the fleeting geometry of the dance. She moves like smoke, like silk, the flashing hologem bands on her wrists and ankles outlining her motions, additional hologems pasted to her body smearing light and painting her gleaming bare skin in sparks and jets of simulated flame.
Around her, no less than three Zealots tower over her, towers of copper flesh clad in shining metal mesh, their arms whirling with lightning speed as they spin and twist, hands filled with gleaming live steel and plasma-sheathed blades, the weapons meeting in clangor or showers of fire about and above her. But she fears them not; she is safe in the eye of the storm, the savage gynoid wall of fire and force touching her not. Captive though she might seem to be, she is at the same time freer than she has ever been in the fire’s heart.
On the edges of the fire pit, bead- and foil-clad NeShemar cavort, their feet occasionally striking up showers of sparks from the hot coals, stoking them to new life. They surge in and out from the firepit, confronting the audience around them, eliciting shrieks of mock dismay and gleeful fear with their fearsome backlit aggression. Here and there, their challenge is met, a grinning Warrior, Tinker, or other stepping forward and meeting them move for move in mock battle before finally dropping back. Sometimes, though, the edge-dancer admits defeat, exchanging places with the victor, taking their place in the crowd to watch and yell out catcalls as the newcomer fits into the ring of dancers, part of the whorl for awhile before they too drop out again and others take their place. But this is just sideshow to the glittering sparkle of the center.
“I want her. She’ll do wonderfully in our Temple dances.”
The Sapphire Cobra’s smiling eyes are fixed on the NeShemar girl fairly glowing at the center of the village square, as celebration whirls around the Blood Rider community.
Beside the observer, seated in her folding throne, the Blood Rider War Chieftainess grins. “Too bad; she’s Reye Coronal Firestormer’s bonded NeShemar. You’ll have to challenge her if you want her pet; she’s rather fond of her, after all the work she put in. And I must say, the Blood Fire Dance has never looked finer. The girls have a talent for the fires.”
The bonfires’ glow reflects from scaled dress and snake-braided dreadlocks as the Sapphire Cobra turns to return her hostess’s grin. “I just might decide to challenge her. She taught the girl? A dancer too, in her own right?”
“Hah! A Zealot and a Shamaness too! As close to one of your snake-priestesses as you’ll find among us!”
“This becomes more intriguing! And I know just how I’ll challenge her too! As you know, we ‘snake priestesses’ are no slouches ourselves in the dance!”
“Then you can expect me to put my credits behind my girl if you can persuade her to take your challenge, if she doesn’t take you to the combat pit instead!”
“Oh, then, it is on!”
Dance and Music
Although not originally programmed with such esoteric skills as Dance or Music, as the Ecotroz-Shemar culture emerges, and both older neural intelligences and psi-borg entities gain in experience and the ability to learn new skills, dance and music are among those cultural norms that the sentients gravitate towards. Though originally Shemarrian culture, as observed from the outside, consisted mainly of martial chants and communal movement that owed more to military drill, conducted on ritual occasions under the direction of Shemarrian Seeresses, culturally different forms of dance and music have begun to emerge, shaped by the character of each Tribe. So, too, have the influence of the NeShemar among the EShemar, the new junior members of the Tribes bringing their own remembered cultures into the Shemarrian Nation. In fact, in many cases, NeShemar members of the Tribes dominated early dance and music festivities, as the more robotic True Shemar looked on. That has changed with the passage of time, though it is still not uncommon to see troupes of NeShemar dominating celebrations, especially when the Warriors are preoccupied with other business.
Enthusiastic celebrants known for their aerial displays and strong acrobatic and gymnastic displays in both ritual and individual dance. There’s also a strong influence of styles from their Shaemarian allies. HawkMoons are best known for their elaborate and breathtaking winged celebrations, with participants in the air and on the ground interacting.
HawkMoon music often reflects this energy, with bold thundering tones or the simulated hiss of wind and rain.
There isn’t much room aboard ships, either submarine or space, for dancing, so individual dance isn’t common among the DarkWaters. Typically, such activities are held on larger on-shore or station facilities, and to mark various special occasions. However, the DarkWaters are also unique in that they practice ritual multi-dimensional dance in both underwater and microgravity environments, those members trained to participate being held in great respect by their fellow Tribesfolk for their grace and energy in these events.
Among the most energetic dancers of the Tribes, giving even the Sapphire Cobras a run for the money when it comes to spectacular displays of enthusiasm. Blood Riders are especially fond of fire-related dancing (both wading through normal, non-MDC, fire, and juggling burning staves and other objects) and sword-dances, often combining the two. Walking on red hot coals (an easy feat when you’re MDC) and dancing dervish style with drawn weapons are common parts of Blood Rider dance. Dance events are also opportunities for competitive dancing, and it is not uncommon for participants to pair off in ‘dance offs’, even in the middle of sacred rituals.
Select prisoners of war or captives being groomed as probationary Tribesmembers may be specially trained to participate in Blood Rider rituals, dancing alongside Tribal performers. Though declaimed by some POWs as ‘making the pets dance at the end of the leash for entertainment’, invariably such complaints come from those NOT selected for these roles.
Blood Rider music has only been described as ‘mad’, a swirling wild tsunami of vocals and wind instruments that is part Far Eastern kasbah and part Highland Scottish bagpipe mania.
Ghost Riders are often too busy to participate in such events as dance, but on those occasions when music and dance flow to the center of attention, their styles are recognizable as old pre-Rifts, heavily augmented by performance-enhancers such as disco-lights and holographic displays.
Late when it came to emerging culturally, SkullCrusher dance and music holds to their martial roots, but with a large dash of Nordic thunder. Music is often dirge-like, with droning chants, and heavy on percussion. Dancing is Morris-style, wild and forceful, with much clapping of hands, beating of chests, pounding on armored limbs, and foot-stomping. Some observers have claimed that one can feel a SkullCrusher victory celebration over a mile away through the vibrations in the ground.
Natural spontaneity is at the heart of the Horrorwoods’ dance and music, with a very grassroots ‘feral’ tone to celebrations, dance and music close to its roots. Also, with so many NeShemar as part of the Tribe, the Horrorwoods’ rituals vary, sometimes widely from village to village. As occasions to celebrate are many, there’s usually always something going on in Horrorwoods communities, and a variety of styles can be seen, no one style dominating. Animals and plants often feature prominently in such celebrations, a decorated tree serving maypole-style, packs of small animals, or a few large ones, brought in to become partners in the dance.
Generally dance and music are regarded as underdeveloped when it comes to the Wolf’s Path, but they still have Tribal ceremonies in which an individualistic, ‘feral’, style emerges. Wolf’s Path dance is often narrative in form, the dancer acting out a role in a loosely choreographed larger depictive event.
Music is loose and wild, with whatever portable instruments that can be scared up. Wolf’s Path music styles tend towards an initially disharmonized clangor that reaches a fervor as participants try to establish the ‘Alpha’ position in leading the way, the music harmonizing as one performer sets the tone and pace, and getting the others to follow their lead.
Silvermoons are given to grand, formalized dance just short of proper ballroom dance exhibitions or ancient courtly dance. Participants often join in mass-movements, revolving around more experienced individual performers, such as Prism Warriors, who serve as both tone-setters and centerpieces. Music tends towards team-oriented orchestral works.
The ‘Cobras are widely regarded as THE masters/mistresses of Shemarrian dance and music, their common and popular rituals occasioned by energetic displays of enthusiastic and extremely sensuous dancing. Though better known for the more exotic and erotic clothes-dropping rituals, Sapphire Cobras also practice individual dance as personal training and exercise, and encourage its practice among their followers. 'Meditation in motion' and 'kinetic contemplation' are among the paradoxical terms used to describe their athletic rituals, along with 'frozen action' and 'suspended energy', drawing similarities in state to a coiled serpent, motionless, yet ready to suddenly strike.
Similarly, Sapphire Cobra music styles are constantly changing, but always work to tease, titillate, and excite the senses, often with low quick beats and fast racing sequences.
Like the Ghost Riders, the WayFinders are often too busy to dance, and the particular makeup of their culture means that they have little in the way of large ritualized events. Individual efforts on social occasions are marked more by personal preference of outside styles than of any uniquely Wayfinder fashion.
On the other hand, when it comes to music, Wayfinder culture is marked by a great degree of experimentation, especially in vocals, as newly cyborg-ized scholars and performers seek to test out their new bionically-augmented vocal cords and integral sound synthesizer systems.
Despite jokes of ‘monster mashes’, the Lost Eclipse actually has a quite profound emergent culture in music and dance. Most of this is individualistic, but also communal ritual. The Lost Eclipse styles are often practiced in partial light, if not outright darkness, with participants moving quickly in and out of obscuring dark, part of the style being guessing your partner’s whereabouts and disposition in the darkness. More intimate forms of the ‘Shadow Dance’ involve tagging or touching one’s partner quickly and fleetingly in the darkness.