Grass Dancing

By Paul G on July 21, 2011
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Originally done as a Warrior Society Dance, it has evolved over the years. It has further evolved into a highly-competitive form of northern dancing.

Grass Dancers always stands out by virtue of two things: his dancing style and his outfit. His dancing has been described often by these words:” gutsy, swinging, slick, old-time,” etc. His outfit stands out by virtue of the almost complete absence of feathers, for aside from the roach feather, there are no bustles of any kind to be seen. The outfit consists of shirt and pants, with beaded or otherwise decorated belt and side tabs, armbands, cuffs, and front and back apron, with matched headband and moccasins, if available. Ribbons and fringe are the only mobile parts of his outfit, other than the roach feather. In other words, the outfit is made to conform to the style of dancing.

Some believe that grass dancing came from young boys tying grass on their outfits. Before a dance could be held on the prairie the grass had to be stomped down. This is where many of the movements are believed to com e from. Afterwards the dancers would tie the grass to their outfit. Many believe that the Omaha tribe originated the dance in their warrior societies.

The name “Grass Dance” comes from the custom of some tribes wearing braided grass in their belts.

The unique parts of the northern outfit are the shirt, trousers, and aprons, to which yarn fringe, sequins, and beaded rosettes other designs are attached. The outfit makers are fond of using playing card designs-hearts, clubs, spades, and diamonds. Hearts and rosettes are the most common. White fringe is preferred; however, gold, silver, and other light color fringe is also used.

Bells are worn around the ankle. Mostly plains hard-sole or woodland soft-sole moccasins. The apron is probably the, most striking part.
The front apron (or breech cloth) is decorated with beadwork, ribbon work, or a combination. The back apron has several colors of ribbons sewn in V-shapes. The ends hang loose for two to three feet. Ribbons also hand from the center. Belts are usually fully beaded. A “holster” or drop is worn on each side of the belt and reaches to shin level.

They are fully or partially beaded. Ideally, all of the beadwork matches. It may be floral, geometric, a combination of both. Characteristic of the outfit are the large, fully beaded cuffs or gauntlets, arm bands, chokers, occasional loop necklaces or breastplates, beaded collars and ties, and colorful scarves. The real prize is the beaded harness which reaches from the shoulders to below the knees. The two strips are usually connected by a large piece of beadwork which forms and hence the name “H-harness.” Tassels or ribbons hang from the end of the harness.

The perfect headdress is the porcupine hair roach which is attached to a head harness. It is decorated with rosettes, hearts, etc., and long drop stripped with fluffs, or drops made from chains or cafe curtain rings.

Dancers carry fans, Eagle-bone or carved ‘screen” whistles (some are made from metal tubes), mirror boards, and dance hoops of various sizes.

Find out more in the grass dance forum.

See more pictures of grass dancers in the grass dance gallery.

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TOPICS: Pow Wow, Pow Wow Dancing

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6 Responses to “Grass Dancing”

  1. Nakima Geimausaddle says:

    I watched my Great grandfather teach my uncles and cousins how to do the Grass Dance when I was young. The story he told us that was behind the Grass Daance is as follows:
    The grass grows very tall on the plains where our villages spent the summer, and the women could not set up their lodges on this tall grass without them falling over, so the men and boys would have to go twist and trample the grass down. They watched how the buffalo did the same thing before bedding down at night so that the herd could see and hear approaching predators.
    It was very hard work, trampling this grass down on a hot summer day. To take their mind off the heat and the labor some of the men began singing, and others began twisting and trampling the grass in time with the music. Our people honored our brothers, the buffalo, who taught us how to do this, by attaching grass to the leggingins and across the shoulders like the buffalo’s hair. Many of the moves that were done mimicked the buffalo such as the shimmy, and going down low like a buffalo laying down in the grass.
    War society members, who were working to trample the grass, then made competitions between themselves to see who could clear the most grass, and whose dances were better than others, but it was not exclusive to the war societies, any man or boy joined in to help.
    This is the way it was explained to me by my Grandfather Elmo Redfox.
    Aho.

    • Jan Charwood says:

      Miigwitch!
      I like your explanation. I could see the dancers thinking about the Buffalo as they did the arduous task of bringing the grass down.

  2. Nakima Geimausaddle says:

    I wanted to add that this does not make the previous explanation wrong, In an oral tradition, such as ours, there can be several versions of the same story, depending on the perspctive of the author.

  3. Roz says:

    I want to make a beaded barrette with the wooden stick. If anyone has done one of these I would love to see a tutorial on it. Thanks.

  4. benjamin antelope says:

    Only the elite had the right to wear the ravenbelt. All others stuffed buffalo grass in their belts. The grass represented scalps.”grass dance” was slang for the Omaha dance among the Lakota in the late 19th century because of this practice.If you had no combat hand to hand experience the last remaining chiefs in the tribe would not allow you to wear eagle feathers.this was in the early 20th century.automobile carburetor choke springs tipped with marabou fluffs were substituted. Govt.repression and poverty on reservations in the 1920′s produced today’s outfit.white man pants and shirt were decorated to resemble a buckskin chiefs shirt and leggings.The fringe on the outfits were salvaged from old Victorian style furniture and lamps.any body under 40 years of age were not allowed to dance until around 1932 when the bans were removed from u.s. policy.the heluska was purchased from the Omaha in pre- reservation times.we passed the drums on to other tribes in the process details were lost.

  5. benjamin antelope says:

    In the heluska only the elite had the right to wear the ravenbelt. All others stuffed buffalo grass in their belts. The grass represented scalps.”grass dance” was slang for the Omaha dance among the Lakota in the late 19th century because of this practice.If you had no combat hand to hand experience the last remaining chiefs in the tribe would not allow you to wear eagle feathers.this was in the early 20th century.automobile carburetor choke springs tipped with marabou fluffs were substituted. Govt.repression and poverty on reservations in the 1920′s produced today’s outfit.white man pants and shirt were decorated to resemble a buckskin chiefs shirt and leggings.The fringe on the outfits were salvaged from old Victorian style furniture and lamps.any body under 40 years of age were not allowed to dance until around 1932 when the bans were removed from u.s. policy.the heluska was purchased from the Omaha in pre- reservation times.we passed the drums on to other tribes in the process details were lost.

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