What Are Grateful Dead Bear Tattoos?

Grateful Dead bear tattoos depict a smiling, dancing bear or series of bears. The dancing bear is an iconic symbol of the band Grateful Dead.

The image of the dancing bears originates from the artwork on the back cover of the band's album, "History of the Grateful Dead, Vol. 1 (Bear's Choice)," which was released in 1973. It was the work of artist Bob Thomas and was originally meant to be a series of marching, rather than dancing, bears. Dancing bear tattoos can be inked in a variety of colors — the more the merrier — and include symbols such as peace signs. The image of the bears evolved over time. How the bears are drawn, their appearance and paraphernalia represent the different elements of the band, from albums to concerts to tales told in their lyrics.

Other iconic Grateful Dead tattoos include the "Stealie" — a skull with a lightening bolt, designed in 1969 and used on the album "Steal Your Face," released in 1976; skeletons from a variety of album covers including "The Grateful Dead," "Skeletons In The Closet" and "Blues for Allah"; and dancing terrapins. Tattoos of the dancing bears and other symbols of the band are easily used to identify Grateful Dead fans.