The jingle dress dance is a popular expression of healing and wellness for native people throughout the United States. Let’s find out more about this tradition by answering some frequently asked questions about the dance and its origins.
1.) What is the jingle dress dance?
The jingle dress dance is a Native American women’s dance performed at pow wows, where native people gather to celebrate and honor their cultures. The colorfully decorated dress is adorned with metal jingles or cones. The cones are sewn to the dress in multiple rows and can number in the hundreds.
Dancers are believed to bring healing to their communities and have a medicinal connection to the earth.
2.) What is the jingle dress tradition?
Jingle dress dancers perform a ceremonial dance at pow wows wearing a colorfully-patterned dress adorned with many rows of metal cones. The women’s rhythmic dancing causes the cones to jingle in time with the beat of the drums.
Over many years, the jingle dress dance has become a significant representation of the Native American ritual celebration.
VIDEO: The jingle dance tradition
3.) Where did the tradition originate from?
The jingle dress tradition began around the year 1900 and is attributed to three Ojibwa communities: the Red Lake and Mille Lacs Bands of Ojibwa in Minnesota and the Whitefish Bay Ojibwe in Ontario, Canada.
The dance later spread to other groups as it gained popularity within the Ojibwa community—first to the White Earth people and then westward to the Lakota people in the Dakotas and Montana.
Today the dance is popular among native peoples nationwide.
4.) What is the Ojibwe story?
The story of the jingle dress dance begins with an Ojibwa medicine man, who had a vision of the dance in a series of vivid dreams. In the dreams, four women danced wearing a jingle dress. The dance would be one of healing for individuals in the community.
The Ojibwa people learned from the dreams of how the dance was to be performed, what songs were to be played, and how they were to make the dresses.
The origin story of the jingle dress dance varies slightly amongst the three Ojibwa bands, but it mainly involves a family member who is gravely ill. In the tales that are told, the jingle dancers’ performance with the rhythmic drumming cured the sick and brought good health to the people.
5.) What is the purpose of the jingle dress dance?
The dance became popular among many native people as an appeal for healing. Those seeking improved health for themselves or ill family members often give the dancers tobacco as an offering.
The jingle dress is also known as a prayer dress as it brings healing powers to those who are sick. Today, the jingle dress and dance speak to the power of women.
6.) What are the dress fabric colors?
Traditional jingle dresses were made from a solid-colored fabric of reds, greens, yellows, blues, and black.
7.) What is the dancer’s feather fan?
Jingle dress dancers usually carry a feather fan as the dance and wear eagle feathers in her hair.
8.) When is the jingle dance performed?
The Native American dance is performed at pow wows by women wearing colorful dresses adorned with jingles and accompanied by rhythmic drumming.
9.) Where is the jingle dance performed?
The jingle dress dance takes place during Native American pow wows. Pow wows are social gatherings by one or many native communities for the purpose of celebrating their cultures. These sometimes competitive, pow wow events are rich with traditional costumes, music, dance, singing, and social activities.
Today, the dance is featured prominently at such events as the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Grand Celebration Pow Wow in Hinckley, Minnesota.
VIDEO: How to make a jingle dress
10.) What are the jingle dress cones made of?
The jingles or cones on a dancer’s dress are traditionally made of rolled chewing tobacco or snuff can lids. Contemporary jingle cones are made from a variety of metals available to the dressmakers.
The jingles or cones are called ziibaaska’iganan in the Ojibwe language.
Dancers often make their own dresses as taught by members of the Jingle Dress Dance Society, usually parents or tribal elders.
11.) How many jingles are supposed to be on a dress?
A child’s dress can have between 100 and 140 cones or jingles attached to it. Adult dresses can have considerably more than that. The dance is supposed to sound like rain when the jingles shake.
12.) Can you describe the jingle dance footwork?
Traditional jingle dress dancers usually follow specific rules when performing their intricate dance. They should not dance backward, cross their feet, or complete a circle. Their feet stay close to the ground, making light and nimble movements as they dance.
Contemporary interpretations of the dance are not as restrictive and allow for more individual movement.
13.) Is the jingle dress dance a Google Doodle?
Yes! The dance gained national attention on June 15, 2019, when Google used it to theme their Google Doodle.
Ojibwe guest artist Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley created the jingle-dress dance-themed artwork for the Google homepage.
When asked what message he hoped to communicate with his artwork, the artists replied, “That Anishinaabe [Ojibwe] culture is beautiful. That indigenous women are strong and resilient, and the voice of our future.”
By Heather Olson
Heather is a writer based in the Twin Cities who enjoys dance, soccer and English movies.
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