Jingle Dress Dance: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

jingle dress dance

Getty Scenes of the Jingle dress dance

The Jingle Dress Dance – which originated with the Ojibwe tribe in the early part of the 20th century and is widely seen in pow wows throughout the United States today – is celebrated with a June 15, 2019 Google Doodle.

Fittingly, the Google Doodle was created by an Ojibwe guest artist named Joshua Mangeship Pawis-Steckley. According to Google, the dance was first prevalent in the 1920s in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ontario. Today, it’s one of several forms of dancing commonly seen in competitive pow wows. It is a style of dance performed by female dancers in First Nations communities.

Native American dancers compete in the Teen Girls Jingle Dance during the 43rd Annual Denver March Powwow held at the Denver Coliseum on March 25, 2017 in Denver, Colorado.

“The dance also serves to affirm the power of Native American women,” Google noted with the Doodle.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. The Jingle Dress Dance Involves Metal Cones That Are Sewn Into Outfits

The Jingle Dress dancers are a beautiful sight to watch and to hear. Unlike other forms of pow wow dancing, the dresses make a very distinctive sound that is evocative to listen to, especially when it’s happening in unison.

According to Indian Country Today, the Jingle Dress Dance is a pow wow dance in which “rows of metal cones” – which are called “ziibaaska’iganan” – are attached to female dancers’ dresses.

The cones are fashioned out of “rolled up” snuff can lids, according to powwows.com, which adds that they are hung with ribbon that is then sewn to the dress. The can lids are purposely placed close enough together so that they will clank when the dancers move, producing the melodic clanking sound.

Four-year-old Winona Gear of the Monacan Native American tribe dances in a jingle dress, which has tubes of rolled tin that make noise as they hit each other, at the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe Pow-Wow 28 May, 2005 in King William, Virginia.

According to Indian Country Today, the dance has very specific moves. Dancers are not supposed to cross their feet, complete a circle or dance backward, Indian Country Today reports.

“They kept footwork light, nimble, and close to the ground,” the site reports, adding that the dance saw popularity in the early part of the 20th century and has regained popularity since about the 1980s as competitive pow wows sprouted up throughout the United States.

2. There Is an Ojibwe Origin Story About the Jingle Dress Dance

An Ojibwe origin story explains how the jingle dress came to be. According to Google, the story holds that an Ojibwe girl had fallen ill. Her father saw the jingle dress in a vision. In another slightly different version of the story, it’s the girl’s grandfather who has the vision.

According to the story, the father felt that if the girl danced this dance in the jingle dress and “always keep one foot on the ground,” she would be healed. She did in fact recover, and she then created a Jingle Dress Dance Society with friends, Google reports. Another version of the story holds that four women made their jingle dresses seen in the vision and danced for the sick child, at which point she healed.

Today, jingle dress dancers often make their own dresses, according to Google. Powwows.com reports that the vision was given to the father by his “spirit guides.” The Soaring Eagle Sentinel describes how dancers often fast before dancing. Due to its origins, the Jingle Dress Dance is sometimes known as the “prayer dance.”

3. The Ojibwe Artist Who Made the Google Doodle Says It Represents the Strength of Indigenous Women

Google asked Joshua Mangeship Pawis-Steckley, the artist who made the Jingle Dress Dance Google Doodle what he wanted people to take away from it.

“That Anishinaabe culture is beautiful. That indigenous women are strong and resilient, and the voice of our future,” he responded.

He explains that he participates in pow wows. “Some of my cousins and friends are jingle dress dancers. I drum at pow wow with my uncle and cousins,” he told Google.

The Soaring Eagle Sentinel vividly describes how the dancers carry themselves during the Jingle Dress Dance: “With one hand that usually stays on the dancer’s hip, holding onto her purse the whole time while the other hand holds the eagle tail feather fan as she slowly lifts and spins her fan throughout her dance routine.”

According to United San Antonio Pow Wow, the dress is the only “women’s dance style where a shawl is not worn or carried.”

4. The Dress Has Spread From the Ojibwe People to Other Tribes

Detail of the jingle dress, showing the rolled tin that make noise when they hit each other, worn by Danielle Bradly of the Chickahominy Native American tribe during the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe Pow-Wow 28 May, 2005 in King William, Virginia.

According to Catherine Tynjala, writing for the University of Minnesota’s American Indian Studies page, the dress originated at the time of a widespread influenza epidemic, hence the need for healing powers. In the article, she described the work into the history and meaning of the jingle dress conducted by University of Minnesota Professor and Chair of American studies Brenda Child.

Tynjala explained that, although the Jingle Dress Dance has its origins in Ojibwe culture, and “almost every Ojibwe or Dakota powwow includes the jingle dress dance,” today it has spread to other tribes and become “pan-Indian.”

According to Tynjala, there are different versions of the dance and jingle dress. “Light footwork” is also an important characteristic of the dance, she writes, noting that the dresses resembled the flapper dresses common in the era from which they originated.

Native American dancers participate in the Grand Entry during the Denver March Powwow on March 24, 2017 in Denver, Colorado, showing the variety of dancing outfits.

Minnesota Good Age reports that the jingle dress is commonly traced back to either the “Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in central Minnesota or the Naotkamegwanning First Nation in Ontario near Lake of the Woods.” Indian Country Today reports that the dance “has its roots in some part of Ojibwe country, be it Wisconsin to the Mille Lacs Ojibew community in north central Minnesota, to White Fish Bay, Ontario.”

5. Indigenous People Transcended Discrimination to Continue the Jingle Dress Dance

Indigenous people persevered and continued performing the dance despite persistent governmental discrimination against their spiritual and cultural traditions.

According to Minnesota Good Age, in 1921, shortly after the dress was created, the U.S. government “issued a new order banning traditional dancing among American Indian communities.”

Despite this order, the dance persists to this day as the competitive pow wow circuit has bloomed throughout the United States. Minneapolis Public Schools explains in a handout on Jingle Dress Dancing that “dancing is considered a medicinal connection to the earth and every living relative.”

“When I’m dancing I feel like the true me and proud of where I come from,” Jingle Dress Dancer Brandy Morris told Northern Wilds. “I’m a humble person and I don’t always take compliments so well, but when I dance, I feel proud and I want to show it. Your heart swells with pride, and you get teary, but you are so happy at the same time,” Morris said, explaining how it feels to enter the powwow and dance. “Your mind is clear. You lay your tobacco. You pray.”