Listed here is a sampling of dances commonly performed on the pow wow
circuit, along with an example of typical regalia associated with the dance
style. Different tribes and regions often will have their own unique
variations of each dance. The regalia differs widely and often reflects the
dancer's personal preferences and tribal or familial affiliation.
The Men's Fancy Dance originated in the 1950s to attract and please pow wow
visitors. The dance is flashy, colorful and requires stamina, strength and
coordination; therefore, it is usually performed by young men. Fancy Dance
movement is faster than any other dance.
Distinguishing the Men's Fancy Dance outfit is the twin bustle, decorated
with a colorful fringe that flows freely while the dancer performs the
ruffle with fast foot movements. The fringe's many colors are said to
represent the Rainbow Spirit. The dancer wears a headdress roach with two
feathers that are kept moving throughout the dance; at times, the dancer's
face cannot be seen for the flowing fringe. Dancers also carry decorated
This dance, also known as the Bustle Dance, is said to have originated in
Known also as the Healing Dance, the Jingle Dance originated with the
Ojibwe in the Great Lakes region.
The dress itself is said to have originated as a means of healing a
medicine man's granddaughter. In a dream, the elder was told to construct a
jingle dress and have his granddaughter dance in it - and she was healed.
The colorful dress is covered with rolled-up snuff can lids attached with
bright colored ribbons. The jingles are close enough together to hit one
another, creating a near-musical, happy sound much like rain. Dancers
perform simple zigzag steps - no high stepping or fancy footwork - and make
the jingles sway.
The jingles are attached to soft cloth such as taffeta or cotton. The
dancer is judged by her footwork and grace.
The Grass Dance is believed to have originated with the Omaha Tribe. All
stories of the dance point to the dance as ceremonial. In the South, some
tribes believe it was connected to a warrior society and that scalps were
tied to the dancers' clothing to celebrate victory in battle.
The Grass Dance, to the northern tribes, is believed to be a blessing
ceremony for new ground. The dancers would trample the grass down in
preparation for a village and grass was tied to the dancer. As the dancer
moves, the fringe attached to his outfit sways as if to simulate the
natural movement of tall prairie grass.
The dance is said to represent the balance of life. The dancer must perform
the same move on either the right or left. The dancer's regalia is covered
with yarn and ribbons that sway, and he wears a lot of color.
WOMEN'S TRADITIONAL DANCE
Traditional Women dancers are looked on with reverence as the elegant
presence at a pow wow. Traditional is a dance that exemplifies dignity,
grace and modesty. The women can move in several ways. Some move in a
bounce style, originated by the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota of the north.
Some Traditional Women dancers zigzag or side step in a circle around the
arena, always with a, bounce movement.
The dress is usually elegant yet simple; the women always carry an eagle
feather fan which they raise it in the air from time to time as the songs
indicate, with an honor beat to show respect and honor for the men and the
The women wear a shawl that is kept close to them, often with very
intricate beadwork in patterns that reflect the tribe and family, and they
carry an awl and knife on their belt. Their feet never rise above the
FANCY SHAWL DANCE
Said to imitate the movements of the butterfly, the Fancy Shawl Dance is a
relative newcomer to the pow wow circuit, starting in the 1950s and 1960s.
The intricate foot movement and spinning show off the fringe on the shawl
and colors of the dancer's outfit. Women wanted a new style of dance that
would attract attention, much like the Men's Fancy Dance has done.
Light fabric is used in making these dresses to give the appearance that
the dancer is floating on air - and to prevent the dancer from overheating.
Many Fancy Shawl dancers do not wear leggings, but calf-high moccasins. The
shawl is the most important part of the outfit and must stretch from hand
to hand when the dancer's arms are outstretched.
The Fancy Shawl Dance was first called the Graceful Shawl Dance and did not
involve fast movement or high stepping. Today the dancer uses energetic
twirls and high steps to a rapid drum beat.
MEN'S TRADITIONAL DANCE
The Men's Traditional Dance simulates the warrior preparing for battle.
Part of the Men's Traditional Dance is the Crow Hop or Sneak-Up Dances. He
carries an eagle feather fan and a staff, and wears a single bustle, arm
bands and a roach with a single feather as well as bells on his ankles. He
will crouch close to the ground and stand up at different times during the
dance. At times during the dance, a drummer uses heavy strokes that depict
the sound of gunfire.
Each tribe has a form of Traditional Dance, but the Lakota Nation is
credited with the Traditional Dance and most regions have adapted some form
of the Lakota version.
The southern version may contain more color and feathers on the regalia.