Dancers have always been a very important part of the American Indian,
no matter what tribe. Most dances seen at Powwows today are "social"
dances which might have had different meanings in earlier days but have
evolved through the years to the social dances of today.
This Pow wow will consist of many different dances, some of which are
listed here. They will not occur in the order listed; for this is up
to the discretion of the master of ceremonies and the Spirit of the
Powwow. Although dance styles and content have changes, their meaning
and importance to the Indian has not.
WAR DANCE: There are many types of war dances. In early times,
the ceremonial dance called "haylushka" was restricted to
warriors, and only the best dancers were chosen to participate.
Today, the war dance is a victory dance among the Plains Indians. It
is purely social and is enjoyed by all who care to participate. It is
a dignified dance, rather than a violent dance as is commonly supposed.
ROUND DANCE: This is a social dance. Dancers move in rows of
circles clockwise around the drum in a side-step, with the faster moving
line in the middle close to the drum and the slower toward the outside,
away from the drum. The entire line moves as one body, each in harmony
to the rhytm of the drum.
RABBIT DANCE/TWO STEP: These are two of the few dances where
men and women dance as partners. The "Rabbit Dance" comes
from northern tribes such as the Sioux. The Two-Step is an adaptation
of the Rabbit Dance.
Women choose their partners. Couples, holding hands, circle the drum
stepping off with the left foot and dragging the right up with it in
time to loud-soft drum beats. In earlier days, if a man refused to dance,
he had to "pay" (money or craft item) to the asker.
SNAKE DANCE: A social dance - the snake dance is just what
the name implies. Dancers follow each other in a single line, moving
in and out in a snake-like manner. The line of dancers describes the
journey of a large snake through the forest and up the mountains, coiling
up for a rest, uncoiling and traveling on. The "snake" comes
to a river, section by section he crosses, down to the last smallest
BLANKET DANCE: Blanket dances are held each session of a PowWow
to help subsidize traveling expenses of visiting drums. The audience
is welcome to participate in all of the blanket dances.
INTERTRIBAL DANCE: Everyone is welcome to dance during and
Intertribal - even visitors! You don't need an outfit, and you don't
even have to be Indian. It's perfectly acceptable to dance in your street
clothes. An Intertribal is not so much a particular type of dance as
it is a chance for everyone to dance together. The dance moves "sunwise"
(clockwise) around the circle and the basic step is the same one used
by traditional dancers: the ball of one foot is tapped on one beat and
the entire foot is placed down flatly with the next beat, then the step
is repeated with the opposite foot without missing a beat. Everybody
MEN'S GRASS DANCE: A great deal has been written about the
Grass or "Omaha" dance, one of the oldest of the surviving
tribal dances. Borrowed from the Omaha tribe, perhaps in the 1860's,
the Grass Dance is very popular today. Dancers' outfits are decorated
with thick hanks of long, colorful fringes, which sway gracefully with
the movements of the dancers' bodies in a movement reminiscent of the
long, blowing grass of the prairie. Several tribes dance their own version
of the dance, and some say that the fringes replace the grasses that
the dancers originally would tuck into their belts. Another tribe remembers
dancing in order to flatten out the long prairie grasses in preparation
for a ceremony. Still others think it originated to celebrate victory
over an enemy. Many dancers wear the hair roach, the crow-belt and the
eable-bone whistle - originally emblems of the Omaha Society.
The basic step of the Omaha dance involved the ball of one foot being
tapped on the 1-beat and placed down flatly with the next beat, then
repeating the action on the opposite foot without missing a beat. Each
time the foot is placed flatly on the ground, the weight shifts to that
foot. Dancers are expected to keep their heads moving either up and
down with the beat of the drum, nodding quickly several times to each
beat, or moving from side to side. The purpose of this movement is to
keep the roach crest feathers spinning. To keep the feathers moving
constantly is one side of a good dancer.
MEN'S FANCY DANCE: A modern dance outfit with its roots in
the old grass dance. It is a relatively new dance style. The dancers
wear two brilliantly colored feather bustles, and their outfits are
much flashier and more brightly colored than the Men's Traditional outfits.
The Fancy Dance performed mostly by boys and young men is based on the
standard "double step" of the Men's Traditional and Grass
Dances, but it takes off from there with highly elaborate dance footwork,
greatly increased speed, acrobatic steps and motions and more varied
body movements. The Fancy Dance is a freestyle kind of dance, in which
dancers do whatever they can, as long as they keep up with the music!
As in other dance styles, the dancers must follow the changing beat
of the drum and stop when the music stops, with both feet on the ground.
This dance is a modern expression of Indian people combining the pace
of today with the traditions of yesterday.
Some parts of the fancy dancer's regalia are:
Hair Roach - an item worm on the head of most dancers, usually
made of deer tail hair; and porcupine hair guard.
Bells - (sheep or sleigh) help to maintain the rhythm of the
Bustles - are the arrangement of feathers worn on the neck
and back of fancy dancers. The primary part of the bustle is the feather.
These were at one time, eagle feathers. Today many are made of white
or dark turkey feathers decorated with small colorful feathers called
hackles. In addition to the bustles of the fancy dancers, another noticeable
part is the elaborate beadwork. Many dancers strive to have all matching
MEN'S STRAIGHT OR TRADITIONAL DANCE: Looking over the dance
arena, notice a very different outfit and dance style. The straight
or traditional dancer stays more in traditional dance style, and expresses
his own traditional styles in dress.
Although dance style varies depending on the individual, on tribal and/or
regional ties, there are certain items of apparel which are common among
most straight dancers.
Fur Cap - with decorations of beads, or silver decoration
Cloth or Skin Leggings, Breech Cloth, Trailer - are decorated
with very intricate ribbon work and bead work.
Bandolier - beads worn across chest made of glass, bone, brass
and many other beads or bead like objects.
Dragger - long narrow strip of otter hide hanging from dancer's
neck down his back to the floor (ground). The otter is the most highly
prized hide for the "dragger" because of the speed of the
Bells - very few will still use the old style of deer hoofs
around the knees or ankles.
The straight or traditional dancer does not erupt into the energetic,
fast pace of the fancy dancer. Rather, he executes a very graceful,
dignified dance more closely reselbling dance style of early days.
WOMEN'S TRADITIONAL DANCERS: Because women would only dance
in the background at Pow Wows on special occasions and to certain songs,
the Women's Traditional Dance is somewhat subdued. The women remain
stationary and bend their knees with a slight up and down movement of
the body. Their feet shift subtly and the women turn slightly. By raising
their fans, women will sometimes signel their price and acknowledgment
of a particular word in a song that has meaning to them.
The outfits worn by the Women's Traditional dancers vary according to
tribal background. These outfits are usually made from buckskin or cloth.
Often the entire top of the dance dress is beaded with symbolic designs
that hold meaning to the individual owner. The dress is often adorned
with ribbon work, elks teeth, and shells. Accessories include decorated
moccasins, knee-high leggings, beaded or concho belts, hair ties, earrings,
chokers, and necklaces. Some women may wear or carry a shawl, and some
may carry a feather fan made from Eagle or hawk feathers.
WOMEN'S JINGLE: The Women's Jingle Dress Dance is named for
the metal cone decorated dresses worn by the dancers. The dress is made
of cloth and is decorated with hundreds of metal cones called jingles.
Jingles are made from the tin lids of tobacco snuff cans. While dancing,
these metal cones hit against one another creating a jingling sound.
There are numerous stories of the origin of the Jingle Dress. According
to one of them, a holy man from Mille Lacs, Minnesota had a dream that
came to him from the Great Spirit. He dreamt of four women that showed
him how to make the metal-cone dresses. They also taught him what type
of songs went with this particular style of dress and how to dance while
wearing it. Upon awakening, he and his wife made four of the dresses,
called the four young women who in his dream had worn the dresses, dressed
them in the dresses they had made, and brought them forth at a dance.
They told the people about the dream, and that this was a new way the
women were to dress and dance.
WOMEN'S FANCY: This is considered to be a new style of dancing
that originated when women started making shawls in the early 1900's
to replace the blanket and buffalo robes they would wear in public.
This dance, thought to have evolved from young women showing off their
new shawls, is very energetic and graceful. The fancy foot work, the
main component of the dance, is done to the changing beat of the drum,
and involves spinning and other elaborate movements.
Dancers of the Women's Fancy dance wear decorative knee-length cloth
dresses, beaded moccasins, and matching leggings. Flashy sequins are
an important part of the regalia. The outfit is finished with a fancy
shawl and Native American jewelry. The dancer wears her shawl around
her shoulders so the fringes bounce.
WOMEN'S CLOTH DRESS: When Indians acquired cloth from white
traders, they began to make much of their clothing from it.
Indians from all areas created many different styles. Some are decorated
with various stypes of shells or elk teeth.
Many eastern woodland, plains and southwestern people made cloth shirts
and blouses. They were elaborately decorated with ribbon and silver
buttons. This style spread in popularity. Ribbons were used to decorate
shirts, shawls, blouses, skirts, leggings, etc. The ribbon is cut, folded
or appliqued in order to create geometric or abstract floral designs.
Indian women currently practice these and other inventive methods of
creating their unique garments.
WOMEN'S BUCKSKIN DRESS: Some buckskins are tanned commercial
hides. The most treasured are Indian tanned buckskins because the Indian
tanning process makes the hide soft as velvet.
When a woman acquires three to six hides, depending on the size, she
must cut and sew them together. This is an art, and many women take
the hides to a well-known Indian dressmaker to assure proper fit and
When the dress is finished, many hours of beading begins. Beading ranges
from fully beaded tops (common among Sioux) to beaded strips across
the front, shoulders and around the bottom of the dress. This is typical
of southern plains Indians. Women try to match accessories to the beadwork
on the dress.
BOYS AND GIRLS DANCE: The Boys' and Girls' dance categories,
for 6 to 12 year olds, are an important part of Pow Wow competitions.
American Indian culture demonstrate a high regard for their children,
and the Children's Competition is considered a training ground for later
transition into adult championship dance categories. Part of the learning
process involves the intricate customs related to traditional dance
forms and spiritual beliefs.
GIVEAWAYS AND SPECIALS: Giving gifts is one way of honoring
certain individuals or groups among Indian people. Here the gesture
is far more important than the value of the gift. There may be various
reasons for the give-away, and it usually takes a great deal of time.
It is an important part of Indian life, and the audience is asked to
show proper courtesy and respect for the event. It must be remembered
that it is an honor both to receive and give gifts. It is another expression
of Indian people sharing by paying honor to one another. If an individual
gift is not given, many times gifts are placed on the ground around
the drum and the person or persons given are honored, if these are picked
HOOP DANCE: The Hoop Dance represents the sacred circle of life. The
person that performs this dance is the center of that sacred circle.
In order for one to attain ability to perform dance, one must receive
it through a vision, or through a dream that must be interpreted through
a Holy Man.
The information in this section of the website is
courtesy of 'Chicago Original Powwow' 48th Annual Pow Wow Flyer