Myth & Lore

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The Jingle Dress Dance
By Jennifer Whitefeather Attaway
Shared with us by FireStarter/Karen

The most beautiful tinkling sound, like that of rain on a tin roof, can be heard at most powwows these days. Thanks to the lovely Jingle Dress Dance, people in attendance can be blessed by a healing ceremony of the Native American variety.

The Jingle Dress Dance originated among the Ojibwe people long ago. According to one legend, a medicine man of this tribe had a cherished granddaughter who became rather ill. Of course, her grandfather was very concerned and his spirit guides appeared to him in a dream one night about the matter. They showed him several women wearing the Jingle Dress and doing the Jingle Dance. In the dream, he was taught how to make the dress, how the steps were to be performed, and what sort of songs would be appropriate. He was told that the dance was one of healing; that his granddaughter would be healed if she did this dance.

In the morning, the medicine man and his wife put the dress together according to the directions given to him by his spirit guides. When the dress was finished, the medicine man and his wife took the dress to their granddaughter. She wore it into the Circle and had to be carried the first time around. During the second time, she could walk a little with assistance. The third time, she was walking on her own, and by her fourth time around she was dancing the Jingle Dress Dance!! She was healed. Ever since, the Jingle Dress Dance has been known to be a medicine dance.

Nowadays, whenever someone needs healing of their physical, mental, or emotional self, the Jingle Dancers are called upon. Many healings have taken place; therefore, the dance is a respected and revered one.

Though frequently utilized for healing ceremonies, the Jingle Dress is also done in competitions nationwide. The regalia is a very colorful and bright one, decorated with beadwork, ribbons, paint, or appliqués and worn with matching barrettes, purse, leggings, and moccasins. The dress itself gleams with row after row of jingles numbering into the several hundreds. (In some versions of this story they say 365, one for each day of the year - Dragonfly)

The jingles are typically made of the lids from snuff cans. The lids are rolled into bell shapes and sewn very closely together onto the dress by ribbons. As each cone is attached, a different prayer is spoken. The closeness of the jingles results in the lovely tinkling sound that is produced when the dancer is right in time with the drum.

As with all dances, it is very important that the Jingle Dancer move her feet in exact time with the drum and stop precisely when the drum stops. The footwork is low to the ground and controlled, not high-stepping like that of the Fancy Shawl Dance. Typically, the steps are done so that the feet are making parallel movements in a zigzag pattern. This pattern is said to represent one's zigzagging through the journey of life.

Today, most Jingle Dancers also wear Eagle plumes or other feathers on their heads and carry a feather fan that is raised to reverence the drum during "honor" beats. In older times, however, the dancers did not wear feathers and didn't carry the fans; they would raise their hands toward the drum during honor beats in order to receive healing. Both styles can still be seen today, although the contemporary version is the more frequent.

With either style utilized, the Jingle Dress Dance is a prayer dance of powerful medicine and is a true blessing to observe and take part in. Those needing healing of any kind would benefit greatly from this revered form of Native American curing ceremony.

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