Cover of Grateful DeadBy William Grayson
The Grateful Dead Dancing Bears are a beloved icon by deadheads and others the world over. Their origins and history are as confusing and unclear as the time in which they were created.
The Bears were first officially seen on the back of the album Bears Choice named for the albums producer Owsley Bear Stanley. The Bear as he was known was heavily involved in the early years of the Grateful Dead. He was responsible for the wall of sound and contributed to the artwork by Bob Thomas including the Steal Your Face or Stealie another favorite and well know Grateful Dead icon.
Officially the creation of the Bears is contributed to Bob. Thomas is said to have drawn his inspiration for the bears from the standardized figure of a printer's font of type. This image shows a single bear that looks like he is walking or marching depending on how you look at it.
Now the confusion sets in Owsley is credited with stating in fact the Dancing Bears are high stepping bears and not dancing bears. Adding to the confusion Owsley was heavily involved in the production of LSD or Acid as it is known and is said to have used a single bear on the LSD sheets he produced further obscuring their actual origins. This use is allegedly before Bob Thomas ever came up with his Dancing Bear design. Unfortunately there may never be a definitive answer to the beloved bears origins as both Bob and The Bear have both passed on.
From a marketing standpoint and the fact the Grateful Dead were a musical act the Dancing Bears are a far more memorable and suited than the High Stepping Bears.
The Dead were way ahead of their time in how they marketed themselves and their music perhaps this played some role in the final name. One thing to keep in mind is if you cut out all 5 Dancing Bears and flip thru the images quickly you can plainly see they are in fact high stepping or marching.
No matter what they are called and who created them they have become a part of the main stream culture. You can find them on Dancing Bear T-Shirts, bags, belts and key chains to name a few. The Grateful Dead had a huge influence on their generation and their music and artwork still has a firm hold on popular culture today.
Grateful Dead fan and owner of Owner of Tie Dye T-Shirts
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