Celebrating the tradition of Jingle Dress dance and pure love shown by women on the dance floor

Jingle Dress dance
Jingle Dress dance

Very few pow wow dance is as symphonic or jovial as the Jingle Dress dance is. The dance performed by multiple female dancers looks amazing when they move together wearing a dress sewed with metal cones called ziibaaska`iganan in Ojibwe language. Many interesting facts and rich history are associated with Jingle Dress dance which will be discussed in this blog. Keep reading if you seek to learn everything about Jingle Dress dance and join the celebration with us. 

History and origins

The Jingle Dress dance originally belongs to the northern tribe of Ojibwe tribe who started the dance form in the early 1900s. The traditional dance became prevalent in the 1920s in Minnesota and Wisconsin of the United States and Canada’s Ontario.

The story behind Jingle Dress dance is that a man saw a Jingle Dress in his dreams. The man was a medicine seller and when his daughter falls sick, he slept and asked spirits to come to him and make a Jingle dress for his daughter. The spirits told the man that if his daughter wears the Jingle dress and dance, she will get healed quickly. Soon, the Jingle dress was sewn and every people of the tribe came together to see her dance. Firstly, she looked very sick and frail to dance alone so other women also joined her. After a little time, the girl was able to dance alone and got cured of her sickness.

It is said that the girl was suffering from the pandemic flu of 1918 that hit the Native Americans which resided close to The Great Lakes. Since then, the dance has not only been regarded as powerful enough to cure women but also a dance of pride, love and faith. 

Although the dance has become a major part of Native American culture, the dress appearance faced a federal ban when ritual dancing was banned in American Indian reservations during the 1920s. The girl, in her adolescence, said that the sound of the jingles followed by the steps accompanied in the dance act as a substance of pride and defiance for Native women. According to her, the tradition continues to grow and retain the reputation of self-healing force although the origin behind it have been seen diminishing with time.

How is a Jingle dress made?

The Jingle Dress is also popularly known as prayer dress which heals those who are sick. As mentioned in the beginning, the metal cones seen in the dress are called as ziibaaska’iganan which is sewn in the Jingle Dress. Traditionally, the metal cones are made out of rolled snuff can lids which are hung in the dresses with the help of ribbons tied closely to each other. Together they make a melodic sound while the women dance. Nowadays, metal cones are even made in factories and with machines which are later sewn to the dress.

The Jingle dresses are available in various colours and sizes in the marketplace. You can easily choose from yellow to green to deep red and even in neon colours. The dress material is often made sparkling and shinny besides decorated with embroidery, beads, fringes and many more to make it as attractive as possible.

Most commonly, the size of the dresses is three-quarter to full in length, having sleeves that comes down to the ankle or mid-calf length. The dresses are secured at the waist with the help of a thick belt that is often made out of brown leather. The dancers wear beautifully decorated moccasins in their feet which are embellished with similar kind of materials found in the dresses. However, the traditional Jingle Dress is made out of old formal wears along with any repurposed dresses. The traditional dress would not have any beaded leggings which we see in today’s’ dresses.

What steps need to be taken in a Jingle Dress dance?

As the metal cones or ziibaaska’iganan hit each other, they sound like falling rain. This makes significant for the Jingle Dress dancers to make their movement or dance steps correspond with each other. With the help of drum sound, the dancers move in alignment and when the beat stops, they stop their movements too.

To do Jingle Dress dance, you will have to move lightly on your feet and keep the foot movements lower to the ground, bouncing on the toes and kicking the heels to the music. This dance is usually performed in a group and takes place in a zig-zag pattern which represents the journey through life. 

The dancers keep their hands on their waist and while dancing with a feathered fan, the modern Jingle Dess dancers would raise it into the air to receive healing. The traditional dance will be lower and soft-footed, just like one would perform while she is sick. The modern competitors, on the other hand, push the boundaries somehow to outperform their competitors.

Jingle Dress Dance traditions

The girls who perform Jingle Dress dance believe that the colours of the ribbon are another part of the healing process. This makes them go to a pow-wow every time to put on a dress and dance traditionally to feel better. The healing dress is scared to the women which makes them give respect to it.

According to the traditionalists, the dress needs to have 365 coned jingles. But many modern dancers use many jingles which fits their dress designs. In traditional Jingle dress dance, dancers cannot cross their feet or dance backward and never complete an entire circle. They keep their footwork light, closer to the ground, nimble and the dresses chirp while they move.  

Comparatively, the modern Jingle Dress dancer shows more flexibility, crosses their feet as well as complete entire circles besides dancing in both the directions, forwards and backwards. In fact, the dress of a modern dancer is made in such a way that can make them move freely. The metal cones though remain signing along even while the dancers carry feather fans with them in the dance. 

Throughout history, women have always portrayed the role of healers and caregivers. Jingle Dress today act as a reference to women power and love. When influenza broke in the US, it was women who performed the Jingle Dress dance so that the entire community can be healed. The dance itself is assumed as a psychological component of sickness. It empowers the community morale to dance for the good health of their family and friends even to this day.

Love spread through a dance form

In many of Native America’s ceremonies, it is believed that women who wish to do Jingle Dress dance must offer something personal and undergo the process of purification. The purification is done through fasting where they give up food and water for four days and nights. The reason behind fasting before the dance day is due to healing powers brought back to the First Nations People at the time of ceremony, song and performing dance steps. 

Whenever I see a Jingle Dress dance, I feel how many times can we stand on our own when we are sick? Putting aside our feelings, when the girls stand with heavily loaded dress makes the tradition iconic itself. Where does the power come from?

As the dance progresses, women forget about the aches in their body, slowing making them dance of their own instead of feeling a force to dance from inside. Women of Native America continues to dance not only the day when they are ill but for years from then on. They not only respect their creators for giving the knowledge of healing but also honour the people and community by gifting them with such a divine acquaintance.

The upcoming generations will continue to do Jingle Dress dancing to honour the young girl who was healed because of the dance. The Jingle Dress dance serves as a source of love, encouragement and inspiration for future generations to make the community happy and healthier. 

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