Much of who I am today can be attributed to the way my parents raised me. In the past 23 years, my parents have taken me to many powwows on various tribal lands throughout the United States. As I grew older and learned to dance, I fell in love with one particular dance style — the women’s Jingle Dress dance style. I dance the contemporary jingle dress style because it is graceful, intricate and beautiful; I personally believe it has the same value as the traditional style of dance.
What is the Jingle Dress?
The jingle dress is a strong cultural reference to the power of women. The Jingle Dress dance is known traditionally as a healing dance. It originated from the Ojibwe people around the time of World War I.
It is said that the vision of the jingle dress and the instructions for the dance, came to the father of a very sick Ojibwe girl when he prayed to save his daughter. In his vision there was four women dancing around his daughter to the beat of a drum. When he woke up he sought out four women to help him put the dresses together with rows of cones made from the lids of tobacco can lids. It took the women four days to complete these dresses; on the fourth day, they danced to a song which had four versus. (As it it known in indigenous cultures that 4 is a sacred number.) As the women danced around his daughter, she grew stronger and was able to dance with them by the fourth verse. After this she recovered completely and continued to dance; she eventually formed the first Jingle Dress Dance Society.
Traditional VS. Contemporary
The traditional dance required the dancers to never cross their feet, never dance backward, and never complete circle. They kept footwork light, nimble, and close to the ground. Their dresses chirped as they moved.
The contemporary Jingle Dress Dance allows more fluidity, the dancers can cross their feet, can complete full circles, and can dance backwards. The dresses are designed so they can move more freely, but the metal cones remain, singing along, while the dancer often carries a feather fan during the dance.