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The Dances

Fancy Dance

The brightest and fastest of men's dance styles; the Fancy Dance or Feather Dance did not originate from any old dance or style. Fancy dancing is the result of trying to entertain visitors at reservations in the early 1920's. The outfit combined the popular bustles of traditional dancers and made them larger, brighter, and more exciting and added feathers,fluffs and colors wherever they would fit. The Fancy Dance has typically been a young man's dance, although many older dancers who are still in shape participate. The Fancy Dance belongs to no one tribe -- it started in Oklahoma and is now all over the country, with some differences in dress and style in the North. Fancy Dancers dance much faster than all other styles, and it is sometimes freestyle, with dancers doing such wild things as the splits and back flips, but this is more uncommon. Fancy dancers can dance a type of dance known as a ruffle--it is full of shaking, ruffling, and blinding footwork.

The Regalia

Fancy Dancers have many objects in their regalia that are unique to them. Starting at the top, all Fancy Dancers have a roach, usually a little shorter than normal and with brighter deer hair. The main difference in the head gear of a Fancy Dancer is the rocker spreader, with two eagle feathers that are often decorated with plumes and reflective tape. Some dancers wear scalp feathers, but it is not as common. Most also wear beaded headbands, sometimes with a rosette on the front. Fancy Dancers usually don't wear a ribbon shirt, but are covered in beaded and fringed aprons over the shoulders and waist. Some also wear loom beaded harnesses that are draped over the neck and hang past the waist. Most also wear small arm bustles that are made from a disc with feathers glued around it. The signifying mark of a Fancy Dancer is his bright, twin bustles. Southern bustles are made from stripped feathers that are decorated with dyed hackle feathers and plumes. One bustle is tied around the neck, and the other is tied to the waist. A newer twist to this is making the bustles from eagle wings, which gives more of a "flying" look. This is more common in the North. In addition to their aprons, Fancy Dancers wear matching side tabs to cover their thighs while dancing. All dancers wear large sleigh or the smaller Hawk bells just below the knee. A large Angora goat hide is wrapped around the calves to produce the white fuzzy stuff around their legs. Moccasins are usually worn, although some will use neon Aqua Socks instead.

Northern Traditional

The first time a person sees a Traditional Dancer, he or she usually asks, "How can this man, with super glue, colored tape and bright outfits, be called traditional?" Today, traditional means not strictly adhering to the past, but instead it refers to a style that developed from the original dance many years ago. Around the late 1800's, only a few dignified warriors were entitled to wear the articles of the traditional dancer, the roach and the bustle. As the dance progressed from tribe to tribe and went northward, tradition changed and more dancers began to put on a bustle and roach. The Lakota tribe is usually credited for the birth of this dance as a true style everyone participates in. The Lakota style, or Northern Traditional, still exists and is popular at dances in the South as well. (It is overwhelmingly popular in the North.)

Contemporary Traditional

The Traditional Dancer in the South today does not look very much like the original dancers of long ago. Many tribal traditions, such as the Mandan's "nest" head dress, have influenced many dancers until many tribal outfits have blended together into a general style with less Tribal affiliation. Because of this varied blending, it is hard to give an overall view of what “traditional” is supposed to look like. In the south however , dancers do use more feathers and animal parts in their regalia, The Southern style is usually called “Contemporary Traditional,” and is more freestyle in dance than Northern Traditional.

The Dances

The Traditional Dancer has a few dances that are uniquely his and his alone. One of theses is the crow hop, where the dancer will “hop” to the beat of the drum. The other traditional specialty dance is the sneak-up, where the dancer may imitate a warrior in the field or an animal looking for prey. It begins with the drum rolling, and all of the dancers low to the ground. ”Gunshots” will be head on the drum which causes the dancers to be wary. The drum then picks up a normal beat, and the dancers rise and dance.


The Regalia

As mentioned before, the regalia of a Traditional Dancer is almost impossible to define. The following will be a very general description and is by no means true for everyone.

Almost all have some sort of headdress: a roach, Mandan, fox hide, ect. A choker, scarf with slide, or beaded tie tab will cover the neck, and a ribbon shirt is usually worn. A breastplate is almost essential, as well as a bandolier or two. The bustle worn on the lower back is only thing that is guaranteed, but they may look very different as well. Aprons with many kinds of decorations are worn, and side tabs are frequently seen. Most contemporaries will wear leather leggings with bells or clackers around their knees, While Northern Traditional do not wear leggings but instead wear leg fringes at the knees with bells and a small piece of angora hide at their ankles. All dancers wear moccasins. Traditionals will also have beaded arm bands and cuffs with fringe hanging off, and will dance with a flat fan ro more commonly a large wing fan. In addition, most will carry a dance staff of some kind with a few feathers attached to it.

Grass Dance

The grass dance style is very old dance rich in history that has become very popular. In the old days, it was the job of the grass dancers to flatten the grass in the arena before a powwow. The name “grass” does not come from the stomping of grass, but it comes from the old habit of tying braids of sweet grass to the dancer’s belts, producing a swaying effect. Today, Grass dancers resemble a multicolored swaying mass of yarn or fringe on the dance floor. The grass dance is a very fluid and bendable style, with the dancers trying to move their fringe in as many places as possible at once. The Grass Dance style was born in the North, but is popularity has spread South, and now this beautiful style is available for everyone.


The Regalia

The regalia of a Grass Dancer is very different from most other styles. The head gear is much the same: Roach, Spreader, and maybe a beaded headband. One primary difference in Grass dancers is the optional “antennas,” which are long, thin wires with fluffs attached to the end that protrude from the spreader in the place of roach feathers. Most dancers today wear fringed capes that are edged with lots of yarn or chainette fringe. Multicolored designs in the yarn are popular, but all white with colored highlights is becoming popular. A matching apron to the cape is worn to cover the waist, and usually fringed side tabs are worn as well. Instead of leather leggings, most Grass Dancers will wear a pair of jogging pants that have been modified with fringe just below the knees. The bells are worn jus below the ankles above the moccasins.


Women’s Buckskin

Women’s Buckskin is one of the oldest and most beautiful of the women’s dances. Often referred to as Women’s Traditional, it is danced tall, straight and proud, each step gliding as if on air, each sway of her waterfall of fringe like a breeze through a willow tree. This is a sophisticated dance style, not restricted to one age group. Women from around the nation, ages six to age ninety, can be found wearing this dress.

The Regalia

A well dressed Southern Buckskin dancer will usually dress from the feet up, so we will begin at the bottom. Most persons when dressing in this style will begin with beaded knee moccasins more often than not made with white buckskin and tied just below the knee, this is followed by a long white buckskin shirt with a cotton tank attached at the waist . Next a person will put on buckskin yoke. This is usually beaded and has long buckskin strips that hang down below the knees. Sometimes a breast plate will be worn over the dress, but that is optional. Various pieces of jewelry are also sometimes worn but this are optional as well. Moving up, a choker at times will be worn around the neck provided that there is no neckerchief. There are various ways that a person may wear hair anywhere from down to two tight French braids. A single feather is enough to finish the regalia although you may wish to embellish with beaded clips, berets and or heluskas.

Southern Ladies Cloth

Women’s Cloth is a formal dress of the powwow. The dress originated from a constant intertwining of the white and Native American Cultures as the settlers crossed the plains. At times when families would go West to settle, they would be forced to dump things that were not needed or were too heavy to be taken along. These things were then found by passing Indians who would take and use them. European cloth was one of the luxuries. The style of dance is slow and graceful and yet bold and proud; it is one imitating nature becoming tall grass blowing in a breeze, their feet barely touching the ground as though their heels where kissed by the wind.

The Regalia

Depending on the tribe, ladies cloth can look very different. This is but a brief description of the style as depicted in the South, We hope it will be useful in your tour of dance styles. Beginning at the feet, knee high boot moccasins are worn. They are sometimes beaded although it is not mandatory. Next over any full slip, a tee-dress is worn. This dress can be made out of any fabric suitable to one’s region and or climate. Next, an apron is put on. It is a piece of cloth that wraps around waist and overlaps to the left. A leather Concho belt is worn over the apron to keep it in place. Over the shoulders, a breast plate is secured by ribbons. Around the neck, a neckerchief is worn although it and the choker are both optional. The lady’s hair may be worn in any number of styles from loose and flowing to up in tow tight French braids. Jewelry is not mandatory although it gives a nice effect of completeness to the outfit.


Jingle Dress

Although the Jingle Dress is the most exotic of the Southern women’s dances, it is nothing in comparison to the legend in which it was created. The idea of the dress was first encountered in the late 1800’s, and although there are many legends, one seems to stand out in my mind the most. As the story goes , there once was an elder in a tribe who was very ill and was thought to die soon. As he lay sick in his bed half-asleep, half-awake, he received a vision, In it, a young woman came to him and showed him a dress unlike any he had ever seen. She said that it was a medicine dress that would make him whole again. With that, the girl taught him what to use and how to make the dress. Once that was done, The young woman taught the old man the song that would make the medicine come alive in the dress. Teach this dance to you granddaughters, the girl said, and you again will be well. When the sun rose the next morning, the old man called his three young granddaughters to him and told them of the vision he had had in the night. When they heard the entire story, they quickly ran to gather all the things they would need to create the healing dress. As soon as the ceremony had been completed, a miracle occurred as the grandfather’s fever broke. It is said that he lived to quite the family for many more years as a result of the healing powers of the visionary dress. Although the dress is no longer used as medicine for the body, It is clear tome that by watching this beautiful dance it has become transformed into medicine for the soul.

The Regalia


The Jingle Dress is in many ways a cross between the Northern style and the Southern Ladies cloth. Although the ankle moccasins and leggings are designed in a very similar fashion to the Northern Shawl Style, The dress itself resembles the style of the Southern cloth. The most noticeable part of the dress is not the dress itself but the hundreds of cone chaped Copenhagen snuff lids that adorn the dress in various shapes and patterns. The only way to describe the way they sound when they chime together is rain on a tin roof. Jewelry and had articles are like those of a Northern Shawl Dancer.


Fancy Shawl

Contrary to popular belief, this dance is not a traditional women’s style. It originated up North as a tourist and competition dance in the early 50’s and 60’s, filtering down to the south where it became more popular in the mid 70’s and 80’s. For years women had struggled to find their place in the dance arena fighting conformity among other things. This struggled to find their places in the dance arena fighting conformity among other things. This was a revolutionary breakthrough for the younger women who longed for a more stylistic approach to traditional dance. Unlike the earlier styles of the 1900’s which were more calm and gentle, the fancy shawl dance was a splash of color, fringe and butterfly wings, each step so quick and light that the young woman looks as though she is literally dancing on air.

The Regalia

The Northern Fancy Shawl Dance is said to imitate that of a butterfly, so the most important part of this dress is the individual’s color scheme. Once that has been determined, a light-weight fabric should be picked. This is to ensure that a dancer will not become over-heated during a dance. Unlike the buckskin and cloth dancers, the Northern lady does not wear knee booths but ankle moccasins and leggings that cover the legs. Moving up. A flared skirt is worn, which may be connected to a tank top or a separate blouse. Next a yoke is worn around the neck, This can be beaded although it is not necessary ( Appliqué or paint designs are appropriate.) A leather or cloth belt may also be worn to keep the skirt in place. The main article in this clothing is the shawl. It should span the lady’s arms from finger tip to finger tip. It may be made of any tight double knit material with fringe or ribbon being hand tied every quarter of an inch at the seam of the shawl. The fringe should hang down anywhere from 14 to 18 inches depending on the height of the lady. A choker and neckerchief are optional but highly suggested.



Thank You: The Eagle’s Nest of Alabama for the use of this descriptive of our dancers regalia. And the people in the pictures that have danced at our powwow over the years