w/permission of Littlecrow Trading Post LLC
Ladies Cloth Dress
This style of dress has many different looks. Many of the Eastern &
Southeastern tribes wear long full cotton dresses, or skirts worn with
cape-like blouses. Many women of the Woodland tribes wear a form of
appliqué on their skirts and shawls called "ribbonwork". This term refers
to wide bands of appliqué that were originally created by using
brightly-colored wide silk ribbons, layered on top of each other, with
designs cut out of the topmost layers. Many of the Plains and Plateau
tribes wear T-dresses, an "Indian" version of a one-piece A-line dress
with large open sleeves, which may have intricate designs sewn or beaded
onto them. Southwestern tribes such as the Navaho are often distinguished
by an abundance of turquoise and silver jewelry.
The styles worn by women are the most tribally-distinctive clothing
seen in the pow-wow circuit. A knowledgeable person can often determine
the tribe of the wearer by her outfit. Many dancers dance with very
dignified, graceful steps. Some of the Northern tribes will dance in
place, doing a graceful "bounce" to the rhythm of the drum. Ladies dressed
in cloth may or may not wear eagle plumes or feathers, and otter-fur hair
extensions, depending on their tribe‘s style and personal preference.
Ladies Buckskin Dress
There are two distinct styles in this category, Northern and Southern.
A Southern buckskin outfit consists of a partially-beaded skirt, top,
high-top boot moccasins, a southern-style purse, dance shawl, and an
feather dance fan. The dancers often wear chokers, beaded hair ties and
fur hair extensions. The styles of beadwork differ greatly among the
tribes, and although these dresses may have extensive beadwork, the tops
are not fully-beaded. Modern dresses have very long fringes hanging from
their sleeves. Southern dancers will dance with very dignified, graceful
steps around the arena.
Most of the Northern-style dresses have fully-beaded tops, and are
often worn with fully-beaded moccasins and separate leggings. The tops
have very long fringes hanging from their sleeves, and the dancer will
generally carry a fully-beaded purse, a dance shawl, and an eagle feather
fan. Occasionally, a Northern dancer will have a wool broadcloth skirt
instead of a skin one, or have a cloth dress top which appears very
similar to a fully-beaded top. Many of the Northern dancers will dance in
place, doing a graceful "bounce" to the rhythm of the drum. Most wear
eagle plumes and/or an eagle feather in their hair, and usually wear
chokers, beaded hair ties, and otter-fur hair extensions.
Ladies Fancy Shawl
This is a modern style of dance, introduced in the 1960’s, when it was
often called "Graceful Shawl". The story I’ve heard is that the women were
so moved by the music, that they began to dance in a more energetic style,
some saying that their open shawl represents the wings of a butterfly. It
is very popular among the younger girls and women. They wear a yoke or
vest/yoke combination which is either beaded or elaborately-appliquéd or
sequined, a flared knee-length skirt, and a shawl opened wide over their
shoulders and held at the edges in both hands. They also wear leggings
which are beaded or elaborately-appliquéd cloth or sequins, and beaded
moccasins. They usually wear eagle plumes and/or feathers, and long ribbon
streamers hanging from their beaded hair ties.
Ladies Jingle Dress
This dress originated with the Ojibway tribes in Canada, but has spread
throughout pow-wow country. It is often called an "medicine" dress, as it
was originally conceived in the vision of a medicine man, as a means to
heal a dying girl, who recovered and lived to an old age. This dress is
made with hundreds of small rolled tin cones, originally made from
Copenhagen tobacco tin lids, sewn into rows on the dresses. They make a
beautiful soft "swishing" noise as the ladies dance, and these dresses are
quite heavy. Most dancers today still respect the origins of this dance,
and ask for permission from a member of one of these original tribes to
wear this dress. In the Northern country, ladies will still dance this
style clear into their seventies.
Mens Southern Straight or Southern Traditional
This dance is widely known as "The Pride of Oklahoma", and is often
announced as such at pow-wows. This graceful, dignified style comes from
the dances done by the warrior societies of old. The dancer "tells a
story", tracking his prey or enemy, pointing to tracks along the way. The
traditional style of this dance is smooth and graceful, and the dancer is
supposed to land on the left foot on the last beat of the song. The jerky,
aggressive hopping or skipping sometimes seen today is done by
unknowledgeable dancers, or those determined to catch the attention of the
judges in a contest.
The outfit consists of front and back knee-length wool broadcloth
aprons and a back "tail" which hangs to the ground. An "otter" or "hair
plate" drop is worn down the back, extending from the neck to the ground,
trailing behind the dancer. Cloth or buckskin leggings are worn over
close-fitting bike shorts (a "breechcloth" going between the legs is never
worn by real Indians at pow-wows today). The dancer may wear a traditional
ribbon shirt, a vest, bandoliers and a bone breastplate. Headgear of a
porcupine-hair roach or otter turban and a neck scarf completes the
outfit. A dance stick and eagle feather fan are carried, and a "tobacco"
pouch may be carried to hold cigarettes, money, and keys.
Mens Northern Traditional
This is the Northern equivalent of a Southern Straight dancer, with a
few important differences. Northern traditional dancers may wear skin
aprons instead of wool, and they don’t have the long "tail" attached to
their aprons like a Southern Straight dancer. A trailer is attached to
their eagle feather bustle which is worn at the back of the waist. Most
wear fully-beaded side-drops over their aprons. Their leggings, if worn,
are usually made of skins. They may wear ribbon shirts or vest, beaded
yokes, breastplates, and a porcupine-hair roach. Some tribes may wear an
eagle or hawk-feather cap, or an appropriate animal skin as a headdress.
They dance with an eagle staff, war lance, or the like, a shield, and an
eagle-feather fan. They dance in a rather aggressive manner, in step with
the drum, telling the story of a battle or tracking a prey as they dance.
They will often be featured doing a "sneak-up" dance, crouching before the
attack. Some people say this dance style originated with he Omaha tribe in
Mens Fancy War Dance
This is a modern style, often said to represent the modern pow-wow. It
originated in the "Wild West" shows in Oklahoma around the turn of the
century as a showy, attention-getting spectacle for the trainloads of
crowds from eastern cities who traveled to Oklahoma to see what was left
of the "wild frontier". All of us Okies know who the original dancers
were, and their fame lives on long after their passing. This is a very
fast, energetic style danced by mostly younger men. The dancers wear two
bustles, one at the waist and one at the back of the shoulders. These may
be eagle feathers, or colorful dyed feathers with ribbon or horse-hair
streamers hanging from the tips of the feathers. They usually dance to
"trick" songs that have abrupt stops, trying to "trick" the dancers into
messing up and over-stepping the end of the song.
The dancers wear porcupine hair roaches with "rockers", a
roach-spreader with two eagle feathers attached upright to a "rocker" that
is supposed to rock back and forth continuously as the dancer spins and
twirls. Originally, these dancers wore elaborate feather roaches, but
these are rarely seen today. The newer, Northern take on this dance is to
wear a "spinner" roach spreader with feathers that "spin" instead of
"rock", and the songs are slower without the abrupt starts and stops of
the original Southern style. You will often hear contest songs of both
types today, and these dancers are often required to dance many, many
songs to prove out their endurance, like a racehorse.
Mens Grass Dance
This is a very old, traditional dance, whose origins go back long
before memory. Some say these dancers originally flattened the tall
prairie or buffalo grass for an upcoming dance, or for a new campsite for
the tribe. Others say it originated with warriors sneaking up in the tall
grass. Whatever the origins, it is a popular and colorful dance today. The
dancers wear shirts or yokes and long aprons, with yarn or ribbon sewn
onto them to resemble long grass tufts. Their dance is supposed to imitate
the grass blowing in the breeze, long and willowy, with fairly graceful
swaying movements. They wear pants with yarn sews onto legs also, and may
wear a breastplate, loop necklace, or beaded "harness" in front. A
porcupine hair roach, eagle feather fan, and neck scarf completes the
War Dances and Social Dances
This begins the main event, as
dancers enter the arena in order of dance style, led by a color guard, pow-wow
princesses, head dancers, and the host family or organization. This may
also be called "Parade In".
Everyone should stand in respect during
this song honoring all veterans, like an Indian National Anthem. Most
tribes have a flag song today. Flags may be American, Canadian (often in
northern states), state or tribal flags, a POW/MIA flag, and an "Indian
staff". The flag song is often followed by a memorial song, victory song,
and/or calling song.
Most tribes have a version of a "round
dance", sometimes called a "soldier dance" or "friendship dance". This
dance circles the drum in a side-step movement. Faster-moving lines are
nearer the drum. Ladies in some areas may also use a front/back side-step.
Everyone is welcome to enter the arena and join in the dance.
A dignified "victory" dance, social in
nature today, once danced only by the warriors and best dancers, but today
is danced by all.
A war dance, where the men dancers crouch
low to the ground as if searching for tracks, then rising to dance as if
in pursuit or following the trail made by their prey.
This is a danced by the men’s fancy
dancers, which "ruffle" their double-bustles during the fast drum-rolling
sections of the song, and then dance very fast during the fast sections.
This dance originated with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe in Oklahoma in the
This is a very fast dance where the
ladies jingle-dress dancers use a variety of side-ways scooting steps
around the arena to a special song. The steps are not the same type of
side-ways movement as round-dancing.
This dance may be preceded by a
Snake Dance. Dancers move like a restless herd of buffalo, then begin to
"stampede" as the drum beats get stronger like pounding hooves.
Many inter-tribal songs exist today,
as tribes come together to share their culture and songs at pow-wows.
Couple dance this social dance together,
in a lively version of "Follow-the-Leader". It’s ladies choice, and the
men can’t refuse or it costs them $5 (or a piece of clothing/regalia, some
say). Everyone may enter the arena and dance. This is the only pow-wow
dance where the men and ladies hold hands while dancing as a couple.
This is a fast-paced song, which is
danced with fast, single steps. Some tribes have songs like this that are
called "horse stealing" songs.
This dance isn’t seen in the Oklahoma
area very often, except at the very large inter-tribal pow-wows. This
dance originated in the north (where the Crows live), and is also a fast,
single step song. Although the trot song and the crow hops sound very
similar, they are NOT interchangeable.
These dances honor a person or group,
who lead a procession around the arena as others join in. There are many
reasons to have a special, such as a birthday, or when someone is "enters
the arena" for the first time.
A give-away ceremony follows a
"Special" dance. The honoree (and family and friends) give presents to
various people attending the dance as a way to publicly honor them.
Dancers drop money (usually $1
bills) on a blanket spread on the ground near the drum, in appreciation of
their fine singing. Singers may travel many miles nearly every weekend to
sing at various dances, and "drum" money helps to defray their gasoline
and expenses. Everyone is welcome to enter the arena and dance.