Published on March 8, 2012 by Amy
Jingle dress is a dance dress worn by women participating in the “Jingle Dress Dance” at a Pow wow. Made of cloth, the dress includes several rows of metal cones, which are sewn across the dress on the skirt (and blouse, in some areas). The metal cones create a jingling sound as the dancer moves. The traditional Jingle Dress Dance is characterized by the jingle dress and light footwork danced close to ground. The dancer dances in a pattern, her feet never cross, nor does she dance backward or turn a complete circle. Compared to the original dance, the contemporary dance can be fancier, with intricate footwork and the dress design is often cut to accommodate these footwork maneuvers. Contemporary dancers do often cross their feet, turn full circles and dance backwards. Such moves exemplify the differences between contemporary and traditional jingle dress dancing.
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Origin of the jingle dress is attributed to three different Ojibwa communities: Mille Lacs Indians, Red Lake Band of Chippewa and the Whitefish Bay Ojibwe. In both the Mille Lacs Indians and Whitefish Bay Ojibwe versions, the dress and the dance appeared in a recurring vivid dream that was realized about the year 1900. In both versions, the dream came to a Midewinini. In both dreams, there were four women, each wearing a jingle dress and dancing. Each dream also gave instructions on how to make the dresses, what types of songs went with them and how the dance was to be performed. In the Mille Lacs’ version, the Midewinini upon awakening, with his wife made four dresses. He showed his wife how to dance in the dress, which he showed to the four women he had dreamed about, by calling the four women who in his dream wore them, dressed them in the dresses, brought them forth at a dance, told the people about the dream, and how the way the Midewikweg were to dress and dance.
The Mille Lacs’ version of the story continues that the reason for this recurring dream was because the daughter of the Midewinini was gravely ill. When it came time for the drum ceremony, the man and his wife brought their little girl. They sat at the ceremony, and the girl laid on the floor because she was quite ill. After the ceremony, theMidewinini got up and told the people about his dream. Then he brought out the four women and said they were going to dance in the style he had dreamed about. The drum started, the people began to sing, and the women danced. Soon, their daughter perked up, lifted her head to watch the women dance. As the evening went on, pretty soon she was sitting up and watching. Before the night was over, the girl was so moved by the dancers that she was following the women and dancing around.
Whitefish Bay’s version is nearly identical, but with the ill child being the granddaugher of the Midewinini. One night he had a vision of a spirit in a dress and the spirit told him that if he made this dress and put it on his grand daughter that she would become well. The medicine man made the dress and brought his grand daughter to the dance circle. The first round around the circle the girl could not walk so she was carried. The second time around the girl could walk but still needed help from some of the woman in the community. The next time around the circle the girl was able to walk by herself.
Due to both versions of the story, some women adopted the jingle dress as a healing dress. People often give jingle dress dancers tobacco to have them pray for themselves or people they care for that are not well.
Due to the strong family connections between the Removable and Non-Removable Mille Lacs Indians of the Mille Lacs and White Earth Indian Reservations, the Mille Lacs Indians’ version spread to White Earth and to other Ojibwe Reservations. In the late 1920s, the White Earth people gave the jingle dress to theLakota and it spread westward into the Dakotas and Montana.
Jingle dresses were originally made of fabric in solid, “healthy” colors – red, green/yellow, black and blue. Each dress was adorned with jingles on the sleeves, the top, and one, two, or three rows of jingles on the bottom. The jingles were made from chewing tobacco can lids, rolled into cones.
Contemporary jingle dresses, introduced in the 1980s, are made from multi-coloured fabric decorated with tin jingles, often made from lids of chewing tobaccocans. The jingle count on a child’s dress is about 100 to 130 or 140, and for a woman’s size the amount varies depending on the design of the dress. The contemporary dancer carries a feather fan, often wearing eagle plumes or feathers in her hair.