Jingle Dress Dance | Native American Meaning and History

Jingle Dress Dance | Native American Meaning and History

Posted By Paul G July 21st, 2011 Last Updated on: February 17th, 2021

The Jingle Dress dance is commonly seen in competitive pow wows today, performed by women and girls in First Nations and Native American communities.

The dance gets its name from the rows of metal cones – called “ziibaaska’iganan” – attached to their dresses, which make a distinctive sound as they dance. The Jingle Dress dance has a rich history, and there are few sights as mesmerizing as watching and hearing the women dance in their Jingle Dresses.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the Jingle Dress dance.

History of the Jingle Dress Dance?  

The Jingle Dress Dance began with the northern tribe Ojibewea in the early 1900s and became prevalent in the 1920s in Wisconsin and Minnesota in the US, and in Ontario in Canada.

The story is that the dress was first seen in a dream. A medicine man’s granddaughter grew sick, and as he slept his spirit guides came to him and told him to make a Jingle dress for her. They said if she danced in it the dress would heal her.

The Jingle dress was made, and the tribe came together to watch her dance. At first, she was too sick to dance alone and so her tribe carried her, but after a little time she was able to dance alone, cured of her sickness.

It’s likely that the sickness she was experiencing was a part of the 1918 flue pandemic, which hit the Native American communities hard close to the Great Lakes. This was closely followed by a federal ban on ritual dancing in the 1920s on reservations. The dance has since been not only a dance of healing but also one of pride.

The dance is now performed competitively and in ceremonies by women and girls of all ages.

What Do Jingle Dresses Look Like?

The Jingle Dress, also known as a Prayer Dress, is considered to bring healing to those who are sick. As mentioned above, the dance gets its name from the rows of ziibaaska’iganan (metal cones) sewed to the dresses. These cones are traditionally made from rolled snuff can lids and hung from the dress with ribbon close to one another, so they make a melodic sound as the girls and women dance. Nowadays, these cones are often machine-made.

Jingle Dress Dance

The dresses come in every color imaginable, from yellow to bright blue, to deep red, and accented with sparkles and even neon-colored fabrics. They are often made with shiny and sparkly materials and decorated with fringes, embroidery, beading, and more.

They usually have three-quarter length to full-length sleeves and come down to mid-calf or the ankle. They are secured at the waist with a thick belt, often made of brown leather. On their feet, the dancers wear decorative moccasins embellished with the same kind of detail as found on their dresses.

Traditionally, the dresses were often made from old formalwear and other repurposed dresses and didn’t include the decorative beadwork, or the beaded leggings we see today on and beneath the dresses.

What are the steps for the Jingle Dance?

As the ziibaaska’iganan hit one another it sounds like rain falling, so it’s important for the dancers to move their feet in time with the drum and stop when the beat stops. Moving lightly on their feet, they keep their foot movements low to the ground, kicking their heels and bouncing on their toes to the music. Typically, this dance is done in a zigzag pattern, said to represent one’s journey through life.

Often, they keep their hands on their hips, and if they are dancing with a feathered fan (full of neutral colors, like eagle feathers) as the more modern Jingle Dress dancers do, they will raise it into the air as they dance to receive healing.

Jingle Dress Dance

The traditional dance involves low, soft-footed steps, as could be performed by those who were sick, while the modern competitive dancers push the boundaries some as they try to out-dance their competitors.

What are the songs and music for Jingle Dance?

The music for a Jingle Dress dance has a foundation of a solid drumbeat for the women to dance to, and of course, the metal cones make a loud jingling (hence the name) as the women move which contributes to the music you’ll hear at a Jingle Dress dance. 

Jingle dancers will usually dance to Northern drum groups.  Special songs for Jingle Dance include a Side Step or Crow Hop.

Updated September 9, 2019

Jingle Dance Photos


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46 thoughts on “Jingle Dress Dance | Native American Meaning and History

  1. Leslie Davis says:

    Thank you for info.beautiful. skilled an nimble how are competition s judged been it many long house dances never felt comfortable to ask my ma now she s resting

  2. Marina Joy says:

    I have a question for anyone/everyone. This is apparently going to be a bit long.
    I am an American mutt caucasian. At some point in our lineage there may have been Cherokee heritage but I believe the percentage is less that 10%, I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that my mother and her brothers cling to this concept in a way many other white americans do. I personally would cherish having some connection with indigenous peoples but also want to respect the fact that I can not claim some one else’s heritage.
    My mother is also a dancer. She has professionally belly danced and preformed Flamenco Spanish dance in her past ( having me ended her career). She currently studies Hula dancing.
    When she found the Jingle Dance she became so excited. She now wanted to make a dress and go dance with others , I assume at a Pow wow but that has not been planned out yet. She wants me to join her as well.
    My question is, would this be a totally offensive act? I don’t know much about the dance but all the videos I’ve watched show it to be a type of prayer dance ( which is beautiful), and I don’t want to take part and offend people. I’m personally not into preforming dances and a would only do this for her, I would learn as much as I could about the tradition to make sure I’m approaching it with as much respect as I can. But above all that I want to make sure that neither of us would be doing something offensive to a culture we are not apart of. I don’t know where to find the answer to this question so asking here was my best idea. Thank you for anyone who replies. Peace and love to you all.

    • Cornelia van Aken says:

      I think, but am not an expert, that you would want to talk to the powwow organizers before attempting to join in. I danced with a professional folk dance company, and when we decided to perform a Qwakiutyl suite, we had to be adopted as a “family” into the tribe, and they wrote specific songs and dances for us. If we hadn’t done that, we would have been sued. One thing I particularly appreciate about Native Americans is that they are so protective of their culture. This ensures that their dances evolve as they should and are not bastardized by well-meaning outsiders (as Middle Eastern dances have been by Eastern Europeans.) The jingle dance has religious connotations that are taken seriously by many tribe members. As I said, I’m not an expert, and I’m not Native American, but asking first will ensure that you don’t accidentally tread on toes.

  3. Terry says:

    I was watching the news and I noticed just a few seconds of a jingle dance that was being performed at the George Floyd death site. The news never said a word about it( so sad). Please thank the ladies for the healing they brought and I’m sure there were others that saw

  4. Amerald Tsosie says:

    I would really love to learn Jungle Dress dancing. I never grew up in that lifestyle and would love to learn so I can pass it onto my daughter. I would love for her to dance also. Is there any induction and process I have to go through? Please any info would help.

  5. Crystal Green says:

    Also if a native American female chooses to become or is chosen to jingle dance, that is the only dance she is allowed to do when it comes to pow wows

  6. Ivanoe Cubillos says:

    The more everybody knows about first nations the more we can defeat racism, descrimination and intolerance. I am not a native person. I am Latin American. My parents taught me tolerance, understanding and give us tools to learn about everything. My father loved to read and myself have never stop reading and curiosity push me toward.

    • Terry says:

      I was watching the news and I noticed just a few seconds of a jingle dance that was being performed at the George Floyd death site. The news never said a word about it( so sad). Please thank the ladies for the healing they brought and I’m sure there were others that saw

  7. Vera Martin. Makoos says:

    I really like this and great information. My granddaughter wants me to make her a Jingle Dress. Thanks for the information that I am looking for. Thank you Makoos

  8. Najat Mounir says:

    Thank you for the informnation on this website. It helps us non Native Americans get aquainted with the culture, traditions, and rituals of the native Americans. Knowledge is the key to understanding, and understanding leads to respect, appreciation, and ultimately, harmony.

    M. Najat.

    • Najat Mounir says:

      Sorry! I apologize for the misspelling mistakes in the comment.

      M. Najat.

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