The Men’s Traditional Dance has evolved from generations of hunters and warriors who tell stories of a battle or a hunt. The regalia worn by these men may consist of some or all of the following: bustles (made of feathers tied to their lower back), headpieces, buckskins, beads, vests, breastplates, cuffs, leggings, bells, moccasins, aprons, dance sticks, fans, or other items that have special meaning to them. The movement in this style of dancing is symbolic to the encounters hunters and warriors share and experience. Watch the dancers closely; you’re watching a part of history.
The Men’s Grass Dance serves as a bridge between Traditional style and today’s Fancy Dance. Grass dancing is done solely by men. It came from Canada down through Montana and the Dakotas. The regalia of these men consists of long colorful yarn or ribbon from the shoulders, waist, and legs. No bustle is worn with this style, and the dancers sometimes wear a headpiece known as a roach.
Most Grass Dancers have their own style of dancing, combining a bit of other dance styles and an interpretation of their own movements. Some say their movements imitate prairie chickens or other birds, dipping low to the ground and circling in a crouching posture. Some believe that this dance came from the custom of boys and young men stomping down the grass before a ceremony or gathering was held. The fringe worn on the dancer’s regalia symbolizes the grass as it moves and sways.
The Men’s Fancy Dance is a contemporary style of men’s dancing that originated in the South during the first half of the 20th century. Today’s regalia is often considered to be the most striking aspect of the
pow wow. Dancers wear two colorful u-shaped bustles on their back.
Matching beadwork and flashy color combine for a truly spectacular look. Steps vary with each dancer, and include spins, turns, hops, skips, and whatever else the dancers would like to incorporate. Men’s Fancy is energetic and fast, marking a dance style of strength and endurance.
The Women’s Traditional Dance is often considered to be poetry in motion. This is a dance of elegance and grace. The women dance with their backs straight and their heads held high. The fringe on their shawl and dress sway gently to the rhythm of the drum, as the movement of the women’s feet is smooth and flowing. Although there are many tribal and regional differences in the regalia of these women, their movement is often slow and poised. The regalia is often made of buckskin or cloth and is adorned with beadwork and other items that carry significant meaning to the dancer.
The Women’s Jingle Dress is also called a healing dress. The most distinctive aspect of this dance is the sound produced by the thin metal cones (made from the tops of chewing tobacco cans) attached to the women’s dress. This dress is said to derive from the Ojibwe, as it was seen in a dream of a man whose daughter was very ill. In this dream, the man was told to make a jingle dress for his daughter. The daughter danced in the dress and became well again. The Jingle Dress is thus highly respected amongst Indian people, and carries significant meaning to those who wear it. The Jingle Dress dancer usually carries a fan in one hand, while resting the other hand on her hip. She moves her feet to the beat of the drum.
The Women’s Fancy Dance, also known as Fancy Shawl, is a contemporary style of dancing that requires a fast pace and lots of endurance. Like the Fancy Men Dancers, the regalia worn for this style are often made with bright colors and intricate designs. Women wear shawls over their shoulders and knee-length skirts that allow them to move quickly and gracefully. Some say that their movements imitate that of a butterfly in flight, with spins and high steps of their own interpretation.