Native American Fancy Dance | What is Fancy Feather Dancing?

Native American Fancy Dance | What is Fancy Feather Dancing?

Posted By Paul G July 21st, 2011 Last Updated on: February 1st, 2020

The Oklahoma Feather Dance or “Fancy Dance” is one of the most popular styles of Native American dance and outfits seen at modern pow wows. The Fancy Dance outfit, as such, has no single Native American tribes.

The “Fancy Dance” originated as Fancy War Dance by the Hethuska Society in Oklahoma. The individual who invented the dance was Gus McDonald. He was also the first World Champion Fancy War Dancer. The McDonald family, specifically Julep Farmer McDonald, the Ponca Tribal Matriarch still presents the trophy to the Fancy War Dance Champion each year because of this family honor.

Gus McDonald also invented the “feather pull” which is another contest of the Fancy Dancer’s agility and ability to keep time with the drum. This dance is done only by the permission of the McDonald family.

The McDonald Family Song is also sung in honor of Gus McDonald’s honor to the Ponca tribe and to the pow-wow world. This war dance song is only started by the permission of the McDonald family and in their presence. Gus McDonald, Ponca and the first World Champion Fancy Dancer, should be recognized for his contribution to the Native American heritage and history.

The most obvious items in the Fancy Dance outfit are great amounts of loom beaded sets of suspenders, belt cuffs, headband, and armbands. The designs are usually matching in all items and of a rainbow feather or geometric design. Beaded medallions are on the forehead and bustles are also quite common.

Occasionally a breastplate will be used in place of the beaded suspenders or in conjunction with them.The other trademark for Fancy Dancers is the use of large feather bustles. Currently most bustles are color-coordinated with the bead work by using large amounts of feather hackles dyed the appropriate colors.

Small matching hackle bustles are sometimes worn as armbands. Hanging beneath the bottom bustle is a pair of trailers, usually with some ribbon work, made from navy blue, black or red wool.

Moccasins are Cheyenne style rawhide sole and may be partially or fully beaded. Sheep bells mounted on leather are worn just below the knee and below the bells about one or two inches are worn angora anklets. The apron pieces (two) are usually navy blue, black or red wool or trade cloth. Decoration may be floral beadwork, ribbon work, or medallions. The apron is usually trimmed with ribbon or fringe. The side drops may be loom beaded strips or finger woven yarn. Chokers may consist of silk scarves, beaded strips or bone hair pipes. Necklaces with medallion drops are also seen. A standard porky/deer-tail roach with two feathers attached to a rocker assembly tops the head, often with decoratively trimmed side feathers. Each dancer carries either a loose or flat fan and often a tubular whistle. Ribbon shirts are becoming more common, as are matching cape and aprons.

The dance style is of two types: a basic simple step while dancing around the Drum and a “contest” step with fast and intricate footwork combined with a spinning up and down movement of the body.  This style of dance highlights the beauty of Native American culture.

Find out more in the fancy feather forum.

Fancy feather videos

Fancy Dance Photos

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Michael Kuhn

I like the protocol of permission
It’s always been a family upbringing of three principles to live by
May I
Thank you

Ron Brave

Let’s get back to the fancy dance. Great appreciation for the early movements of the fancy dance or war dance. Acorn Tyon, Norman Roach, Joe Bounty, Norman Newrider just to name a few of the early champions, and sp me of them still dancing today, are the ones give the grea t respect for bringing this dance to what it is today.

Claire Helene Carayannis

I FANCY DOING FANCY FEATHER IN SWAHILI RIGHT NOW. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDaiTMA0TKo

Betty Flinchbaugh

I would love to see fancy feather war dancing on a TV program like dancing with the stars. The Regalia is so spectacular it would be something to see. I love the graceful way the dancers move and the flow of the feathers. To me it’s every bit in story telling as ballet.

[…] the dances I watched, the most eye pleasing was the Fancy dancers. Their outfits are extravagant.  They use many florescent colors along with black and white. Their […]

nena benally

I have 2 boys ages 3 and 2 whom I want to start learning to fancy dance. Could I get some info on how I would begin this?
Thank you.

A Fourkiller

KQ design is a good place to look.

your mom


Kiamichi Camp

My grandmother’s name was Jewell, not Julep. She passed so now my dad and uncles give the trophy out. Just wanted to update this article a little 🙂 Love seeing all the fancy dancers out there!

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