Dance Styles & Regalia
Here are descriptions of the various dance style that are seen at Indian Summer. While not an exhaustive list, the reader should also consider the diversity of Indian Country when reading about the dance style and regalia. With over 500 Nations, each tribe may have its own interpretation of regalia and dance movements, that is one of the things that makes the Pow-Wow special, it is the multiplicity of elements and stories that come together in one place, for celebration and unity. What follows is a general guide to be used by the reader in preparation to see some of the most beautiful dancing on earth, and take up the challenge to learn as much as they can from the dancers, singers and MCs as well as researching information on their own!
Unless otherwise notes, all sources of information about the dance style come from Pow-Wows.com.
Men’s Northern Style
Most commonly seen in the Northern and western areas of Indian Country, this would be the most common men’s style of regalia at the event. The singular “U” or butterfly shaped feather bustle that are worn on the dancers lower back can distinguish these dancers. Other Northern style dancers may choose to wear bustles that are circular in shape.
Men’s Southern Straight Dance Style
This special style of dance comes to us from the southern United States, most notably from states like Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri. This type of dancer is generally recognizable by the long otter worn on his back, bordered by intricate designs of ribbon work and beadwork. The otter hide usually extends from the dancers upper back, almost stretching dance floor. Very often the Southern Straight dancer will wear a head roach, headband and or otter turban. Dancers carry fans and dance sticks that help them tell their story as they move.
Men’s Grass Dance
This is considered by many to be a traditional style of dance. The dance look and style comes to us from the plains. Men will usually wear outfit with long fringes made of yarn, leather, ribbons or some sort of fiber. The dancer usually does not have a feather bustle, and the smooth movements of the dance can either be to tell a story, to mimic the movements of tall grass in the wind, or to interpret a dancers vision of what a particular song is saying to them.
Men’s Chicken Dance
Most recently making inroads into central United States, this style of dance has very old origins in Northwestern United States and areas of Southwestern Canada. The dance comes to us from the Blackfoot people. Many dancers of other Nations have been inspired to take on this style of dress and movement. The Chicken Dance style is usually depicted in dress by the prevalent use of pheasant feathers in the regalia. Dancers use feather bustles worn on the upper back, and creative ornamentation unique to their Tribe but stylized to reflect the influences on the original regalia type. Many dancers will use vibrant colors to highlight their designs and feather work. Their movements can distinguish the dancers during specific songs created for their dance discipline. These moves highlight movements reminiscent of the Prairie Chicken mating dance!
Two often time colorful bustles are worn on the back for this dance, and can be divided into two categories, Southern and Northern. These dancers are athletes, with their dance demanding a high level of knowledge, songs, movements and stamina. The dance is one of the most recent additions to dancing, and most often compared to the way “Rock and Roll” revolutionized the sight and sound of dancing.
Men’s Northern Woodland Old Style
The outfits are an older style of dress. Men may wear a smaller style of feather bustle, or bustle where the feathers hang down in the back. The beadwork is most commonly floral in the Great Lakes region, featuring tribally specific stylized versions of art and movement. Many older people familiar with Pow-Wows can identify the Nation and area a person is from just by looking at the outfit.
Men’s Smoke Dance
Most notably the dance comes from the Northeast portion of the United States and Southeastern reaches of Canada. The men wear caps with feathers and the configuration of the feather work will symbolize which Nation a dancer is representing. Dancers wear no bustles, and have unique beadwork patterns of a raised style or outline of flat rows of white beads. Dancers will depict their own interpretation of a song, following the lead of the drum and the message of the song.
Women’s Southern Cloth
This style of outfit is noticeable in the unique designs of the appliqué ribbon work used in the women’s dress and shawl. In general the women will wear beaded crowns on their heads and the designs within their outfit are unique to them because of family or ingenious creativity. The women can be distinguished in their dance by seeing the bowing movements of the head and upper body during specific moments in a song.
Women’s Southern Buckskin
These women wear beautiful buckskin dresses with the most intricate and unique beadwork. The beadwork patterns can be seen as accent to the regalia. Usually, the women will wear beaded crowns and breastplates made of bone that cover the front and upper back of the dancer. These women will also bow during specific parts of a song and are most graceful either dancing to the song by moving or staying in place.
Women’s Northern Cloth
Many of the designs in this category of dancer and tribally specific, and while many of the patterns used are inherited, many times great creativity is given to produce moving works of art on the regalia. Moccasins usually reflect the specific tribal heritage of a dancer, as well as the inspired beadwork and ribbon work. These women will usually dance in place or appear to “walk” to the timing of a song.
Women’s Northern Buckskin
Women wearing these outfits are usually wearing entire capes, or tops covered in beadwork with fringes below the beadwork almost reaching the floor. The beadwork is almost always a matching set to the leggings and moccasins of the dancer. Women may carry shawls or fans, or both. The dance can be done in a walking, stationary or movements reminiscent of a scrubbing motion.
Women’s Jingle Dress
Women that dance in this mode are easily distinguishable from the other dancers by the way their dresses are made. Spectators can see the dance jingles, or rolled metal cones that are sewn onto the dress. The cones move against each other making a unique sound. The dress originates from the Ojibwa people, and has a spiritual significance and origin. Many tribes have adopted the general ideas of the dress and incorporated their own interpretations into the patterns.
Otherwise known by other names such as “Graceful Shawl” or “Shawl Dance”, this is another recent addition to the Pow-Wow scene. The movements are very athletic and songs can be just as fast as the men’s fancy dance. Many people say that the movements are to reflect the beating wings of birds or even the butterfly. The Shawl is generally worn over the shoulders, and has patterns that can be simple to complex, showing amazing artwork by accomplished artisans. Beadwork in the outfits is usually matching and reflects on the hours of work gone into creating a unique look for each dancer.
Women’s Smoke Dance
Generally regarded as the showcase of Smoke Dancing talent, these women will wear cloth dresses made of calico or free flowing fabric. The dance is fast and intricate, with amazing footwork. Women will spin, move backwards, laterally and even jump in time with the song. Women will usually use raised beadwork and appliqué patterns unique to their Nation.