Dance Styles
by Chris Roberts

    As the powwow's popularity has increased in the past ten years types of dances, outfits and singing styles have evolved and multiplied.   Dance clothes are usually referred to by participants as "outfits".   Even though there are strong similarities of outfit elements within a specific dance category, each outfit has differences based on a wearers personal taste, dance style, and tribal affiliation.   Lakota male traditional dancers are easily differentiated from Blackfeet or Crows.   Woodland tribes favor ribbon work and appliqued floral beadwork, while plains tribes use a lot of geometric beadwork patterns.


Fancy Dance

    The outfits of both male and female fancy dancers use bright vivid colors and are flashy.     Men wear brilliant hackle feather bustles on the their backs, necks and arms. Men also wear full beaded harnesses or beaded or sequined capes and aprons.   All male fancy dancers wear large ankle furs, and bells at their knees.

    Women fancy dancers all use bright embroidered shawls with long fringe and full beaded or sequined capes and leggings. None of the women's categories wear bells.

    Fancy dancers dance with fast, intricate footwork and energetic body movements to a very rapid drumbeat.

Grass Dance

    Grass dancing is a popular northern plains men's style that has spread to the southern circuit.   The dancers wear brightly colored yarn or ribbon fringe sewn to their pants, shirt, and aprons.  They do not wear feather bustles but usually wear long beaded harnesses with matching belts.   Grass dancers wear their bells on their ankles.

   The dancers move their entire bodies, rocking and gyrating with strenuous movements and elaborate footwork.   They wear either eagle feathers or eagle plumes attached to springs in their porcupine hair headdresses.


Traditional Dance

    Male traditional dancers wear natural outfits utilizing more historical articles, older beadwork patterns, and natural colors.   Men usually wear a single large eagle feather bustle on their back.   It is currently popular for many dancers to wear eagle feather "wings' on their shoulders and feather "visors" on their foreheads.

  Other outfit parts are bone breastplates or full beaded vests, smoked hide leggings, lots of buckskin fringe and feathered or porcupine hair headdresses.  Traditional dancers are proud and deliberate.   Male dancers throw out their chests and bend low re-enacting searching for enemies or stalking prey.   All dancers carry hand objects.   These can be shields and clubs, eagle clawed dance sticks, and eagle feather fans.

    Women traditional dancers wear ankle length white or smoked buckskin dresses with long fringes extending from their full beaded dress tops.   They carry themselves with dignity and grace.   Their subtle and precise steps cause the buckskin fringe of their outfits to sway in gentle harmony with their bodies.

  Other outfit parts are bone breastplates and beaded or brass tack belts and elaborate braid ties.   Women carry fans and shawls as hand objects.

Jingle Dress

    Jingle dress dancing is currently very popular, though it was hardly seen ten years ago. Dresses are usually made of bright satin cloth or velveteen.   Hundreds of large tin cone "jingles" are sewn on in line or chevron patterns.    Chewing tobacco can lids rolled into cones make the best jingles.   Dancers perform with an up and down motion due to the tightness of their dresses creating a pleasingly rhythmic clacking of jingles.   Dancers usually carry fans for hand objects.


Straight Dance

    This male style originates in the southern powwow circuit and isn't commonly seen in the north except at very large events.   Straight dancing corresponds to traditional dance and has its roots in warrior societies.   The dancers do not wear bustles.   However their meticulously maintained outfits are characterized by bright satin shirts, wide beaded belts, and matching leggings and aprons decorated with intricate ribbonwork.    Dancers heads are either adorned with fur turbans or porcupine hair headdresses.   A long, neck to ankle, otter fur "dragger" is the predominate feature on their back.   Dancers carry beaded sticks and mirror boards or fans as hand objects.



    The Crow are a people who pride themselves in the difference their culture has from other Plains tribes.   The Crow people speak a different language, trace their heritage through their mothers, and band together in clans.   Their dancing is unique and they are known for it.

     The modern Crow Men's Traditional style had its beginning in the 1920s and '30s.   Crows wear brocade capes and aprons over colored tights or bare skin.   Long breastplates replace traditional loop necklaces.   Matching appliqued beadwork sets designed in floral or geometric patterns consist of a wide belt and pouch similar to a woman's, sidedrops, cuffs, armbands, and mirror bag.   Contemporary bustles resemble colorful feather dusters with trailers or have eagle and hawk feathers in natural tones.   Around their ankles cluster large dance bells worn over athletic socks.   Crow outfits are incomplete without a string of side bells.    Their porcupine headdresses are worn flat.   Rooster feathers tuck into rhinestone or beaded headbands from which hang braids and long beaded drops.   Dancers intricately paint their faces and sometimes rouge their lips and blush their cheeks.   Few Crow dancers are observed outside of Montana.

     On the floor Crows dance in a straight traditional manner with a heavy emphasis on the heel, or second beat.   Practicing a precise dance style, family members or friends will commonly dance in a line "following the leader."   Carrying mirror bags (containing valuables) in their left hands and dance sticks in their right, their large bells ringing loudly, a long line of Crow dancers is an enjoyable and energizing experience.

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