This style of dance is the fastest of men’s dance styles. Fancy dancing evolved as the result of trying to entertain visitors at reservations in the early 1920’s. This dance has typically been a young man’s dance, although many older dancers who are still in shape participate. The Fancy Dance belongs to no one tribe and is now all over the country, with some differences in dress and style. Fancy Dancers dance much faster than all other styles, and it is sometimes freestyle, with dancers doing such wild things as the splits and backflips, but this is more uncommon.
The Grass Dance style is a very old dance rich in history that has become very popular. In the old days, it was the job of the grass dancers to flatten the grass in the arena before a pow wow. The name “grass” does not come from the stomping of grass, but it comes from the old habit of tying braids of sweetgrass to the dancer’s belts, producing a swaying effect. Today, Grass Dancers resemble a multicolored swaying mass of yarn or fringe on the dance floor. The Grass Dance is a very fluid and bendable style. The Grass Dance style originated in the North.
The Straight Dance, sometimes referred to as Southern Traditional, is the formal and original dance of most of the Oklahoma tribes, including the Ponca, Osage, Kiowa and Commanche. It is a dignified style, where the men who dance it keep a steady, flowing pace. Because of its slow place, some people believe that it is an old man’s dance, but this is not the case. There are many fine Straight Dancers in the Oklahoma area, ranging in age from ten to eighty.
The Traditional Dance is one of the most common styles seen at pow wows and is considered the warrior’s dance style. Around the late 1800’s, only a few dignified warriors were entitled to wear the articles of the traditional dancer, the roach and the bustle. As the dance progressed from tribe to tribe and went northward, tradition changed and more dancers began to put on a bustle and roach. The Lakota tribe is usually credited for the birth of this dance as a true style everyone participates in.
The Fancy Shawl Dance is the most exciting of the ladies’ dance styles to watch, due to its many intricate movements and steps. Contrary to popular belief, this dance is not a traditional women’s style. This style of dance originated up North in the early 50’s and 60’s, filtering down to the South where it became more popular in the mid 70’s and 80’s. Unlike the earlier styles of the 1900’s which were more calm and gentle, the Fancy Shawl Dance was a splash of color, fringe and butterfly wings, each step so quick and light that the young woman looks as though she is literally dancing on air.
Although the Jingle Dress is the most exotic of the Southern women’s dances, it is nothing in comparison to the legend in which it was created. The idea of the dress was first encountered in the late 1800’s. As the legend goes, there once was an elder in a tribe who was very ill and was thought to die soon. As he lay sick in his bed he received a vision, in it a young woman came to him and showed him a dress and taught him the songs that would make the medicine come alive in the dress. He was instructed to teach this dance to his granddaughters, and at the completion of the dance he was well.
Women’s Cloth is a formal dress of the pow wow. This style of dance is much like Southern Buckskin, but the beautiful outfits are made with fine cloths and ribbonwork. The dress originated from a constant intertwining of the white and Native American cultures as the settlers crossed the plains. The style of dance is slow and graceful and yet bold and proud; it is one imitating nature becoming tall grass blowing in a breeze, their feet barely touching the ground as though their heels where kissed by the wind.
Women’s Buckskin is one of the oldest and most beautiful of the women’s dances. Often referred to as Women’s Traditional, it is danced tall, straight and proud, each step gliding as if on air, each sway of her waterfall of fringe like a breeze through a willow tree. This is a sophisticated dance style, not restricted to one age group. Women from around the nation, ages six to age ninety, can be found wearing this dress.