History of the Jingle Dress Dance

History of the Jingle Dress Dance

Posted By Paul G July 21st, 2011 Pow Wow

Last Updated on

The Jingle Dress dance is commonly seen in competitive powwows 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) sowed 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.

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.

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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Comments

8 thoughts on “History of the Jingle Dress Dance

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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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