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Old 03-14-2008, 10:06 AM   #1
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Grass Dance FAQ!

Grass Dance FAQ

We’re firing up a FAQ in the forum! Feel free to add as you see fit, with your help, we can create the internet’s most definitive source of grass dance information! Heck, maybe someday it’ll even be plagiarized for someone’s senior thesis or graduate dissertation!


Where does the grass dance come from – and who started it?
The exact origins of the grass dance are somewhat contested – but popular modern history points to the Ponca Hethuska society as it’s source (within memory). The dance then was passed on to the Omaha from the Ponca, and to the Lakota/Dakota from Omaha (thus one if it's many popular names, the Omaha dance). The dance itself may actually predate the existance of Omahas and Poncas, and come from a much, much older time (time immemorial) and was created when many the tribes directly involved with the evolution of the dance where one larger group.

Check out Historian’s excellent post on the Hethuska society here

Thomas Vennum Jr. wrote about it's transmission; specifically to the Ojibwe

And the Powwows.com intro article on grass dancing here

What does the grass dance look like?
Excellent question! In lieu of heading down to your local powwow, our gallery on Powwows.com and a few select YouTube links will get you up and running.

Powwows.com Gallery

Wade Baker - Original style demo

Randy Paskemin and Julius Not Afraid

Terrance Goodwill and Randy Paskemin

And check out many more excellent examples of the style on our very own Pow Wow TV!

Why do they call it a grass dance?
There are a couple of popular non-competing teachings that contribute to the dance's title:

The first is that the grass dance originated as the Heluska/Hethuska/Irsuka (See above) society and that the men tucked scalps into their belts when they danced. During the reservation period, inter-tribal warfare eventually decreased and grass was utilized as a symbolic replacement for scalps. Somewhere along the line, somebody used some sweet grass and it stuck in some places - today some dancers still carry hoops of sweet grass or fur wrapped hoops as part of their regalia.

The second tradition states that grass dancers were often the first to be sent out in order to prepare the arena for other dancers/functions. In this system, many of the styles signature moves come from miming the action of flattening the grass with ones feet in a dignified and loving manner - done this way because grass is believed to be the hair of mother earth. (especially true for sweet grass)

See a discussion on dancing with sweet grass hoops/circles here.

Hand Items
The most frequently carried accessories by grass dancers include hoops, sweet grass (braided or hoops), fans, sticks (whip sticks, generic dance sicks, or old style with two sticks), and goose whistles (another old style accoutrement). Speculation runs rampant as to the historical legacy of some of these items, but I'll do my best to provide a few possible clues to each item below - except for fans, which are fairly universal/generic for most dancers.

Hoops Hoops might come from the dance's historical roots as a warrior society. Scalps are stretched across wooden hoops in many museum pieces and historical records. It's also a fairly common taxidermy technique, most often seen in preserving beaver hides. For myself, i am also a hoop dancer and typically carry a hoop dance hoop with me, as I often hoop dance in my grass dance regalia.

Sticks
Sticks may come from two different traditions. The first tradition involves the Hethuska society, where the custom was to serve boiling meat from a kettle using two sticks. If I'm not hoop dancing, I most commonly dance with two wooden dance sticks that have been turned on a lathe.

The other tradition I would suggest as a point of origin would be that of the whip man. The following quoted info is from here :

"A Whip man was typically a respected member of the tribe and a dancer. He was responsible to keep the participants of the powwow dancing. As he was dancing, the Whip man would circle the edge of the dancing arena with his stick. If a dancer was sitting down, the Whip man would come and point at the dancer to get up and dance. The dancer would have to listen to the request of the Whip man. If the Whip man came by again and the dancer was still sitting down, he would have to give an offering for his disrespect by being humbled and performing a small giveaway. "


Interesting enough, today a lot of male dancers will call their friends to dance by pointing at their feet with a dance stick or possibly even fanning their friends feet as they dance by. I've only seen a guy in my area stay seated once, and he had a twisted ankle. Young bucks take note when in NW Ontario and sweet talk the ladies away from the arena and your fellow dancers! ;)

Goose Whistles Old school like Earth Wind and Fire... Go ask Steve!

Who can perform the grass dance?
Modern grass dancing doesn’t have a formal entrance policy as such, and I'd wager nearly every tribe on North American can claim at least one grass dancer amongst its ranks. Grass dancing is especially popular as a first style choice for children, and as such, is quite common as a male dancer’s first style. Like the fancy feather dance, there were many women who danced this style and its regalia in the 70s - especially if they also hoop danced (upper midwest). There are also photos from the 1800s showing women in grass dance dresses, but little else is known about the style or its function. Today, the grass dance is referred to as a man’s style and is typically reserved for men. A notable exception to this is the switch dance, where men dance women's styles and women dance men's styles.


Forum discussion of women dancing the grass style is here

A video of ladies dancing grass can be viewed here

What brand of yarn should I use/ is the best?
Red Heart - it's widely available and easy to get. It also lasts a long, long time. The ends of the yarn fringe can also be coated in a dab of clear drying craft glue in order to hold it from fraying.


How do I make a grass dance oufit? (from a post by Niijii's Mom)

Patterns
I wrote a nice long reply the other night and lost it, and i was tired after i wrote it so i decided to wait to post it again, here goes :)

I would recommend that you make your own pattern. Adults have different proportions than kids, and sometimes its just easier to make your own patter than ruin one by cutting to much off ;) (learned the hard way) anyways. First measure his waist. lets say he's 27 inches around. You would want to make his drops at least 4 inches wide, so you would take 8 inches off the measurement leaving you with 19. add and inch (to make it nice and easy) for grow room. :) Divide that in half and now you know your aprons are gonna need to be at least 10 inches wide. You will probably gonna wanna take this aprons past his knees so measure the length that you want it and draw it out on a piece of newspaper. I use newspaper because if you mess up, you can throw it away and start a new one. :) Add at least 3 inches on the length so that you can put a waist band on it. I use elastic for my little boy, but i would use a belt to hold on your son's aprons.

My little guy wears both a yoke and a ribbon shirt. The Yoke is simply and oval with a hole cut for his head. i think that vests look really put together. (Niijii has a vest too) To get the measurement for a yoke you would measure from his shoulder to his waistband or to the middle of his chest, depending on if you want the material to show. Double that length and that is how long you want your oval to be, measure from shoulder to shoulder (usually about 15 inches on a kid about 8 years old) this will give you how wide you want your oval to be. For stringing on the fringe, you could put it around the outer edge, but i added a few pieces in the front for a little extra detail (and because i knew if i ran the fringe all the way around to the front you wouldn't be able to see the appliqué work on the front of the apron. you could avoid this by making the yoke to come down to his chest. (this would give it a shorter oval, kinda like a poncho)
Niijii has appliqué work done on his front so it hangs down to his waistband. On the back i put two small appliqués on the back so there was a lot of extra space so i added a little extra fringe to cover the extra space (looks cool too) On his vest i put no fringe on the front, but strung some on the back of his vest. it looks very nice :)

For the cuffs i measure the length between his elbow and his wrist and divide it in two. that is the width of his cuffs. measure around his wrist add a about 2 inches. this will be the top of his cuff. add about 2 inches again and that will be the length of the back of the cuff, angle your lines so that it comes down like a gauntlets, (does this make sense?) i added the fringe by punching holes with a leather punch then looped about 5 pieces of ribbon through it. when i got that done i sewed the two sides of the cuff together with a straight stitch to keep them neat and keep the ribbon from pulling back out. (this also forms it into a cuff that you just slide your hand through.

For the pants or leggings i purchased a pair of black pajama pants and let him wear those. if i were more ambitious i would run a few lengths of fringe around them starting at about the knee and coming down. (so that it gets a nice full look, you would want to layer it) If cant find pajama pants then you could make a pair of pants with an elastic waistband.

This is how i put the fringe on Niijii's regalia (both of them) I tied a piece of ribbon (b/c it doesn't stretch like yarn does) then i looped the ribbon around it so that it held its self in place. You want to keep the fringe fairly close together w/o bunching up on its self. you don't want it to be to loose or it will look sparse. of course you can always use a couple layers or fringing to make it look really full, but if you tie them close together, its not necessary. You could also tie two pieces on at the same time. You could also put the fringe on one piece at a time by using a crochet hook or a awl to poke the fringing through the edge of your aprons or yoke. I used extra wide double fold bias tape for both of Niijii's regalia because its gives everything a nice clean line. i sewed down the bias tape as close the edge as i could. this formed a flap that i could insert the line of fringe into then sew it down. This keeps the fringe from falling out, or coming un raveled. *Hint, seal or singe your ribbon ends before you wear it, it will save you a lot of head ache!*

I wouldn't fringe the sides of the side drops, just the bottom because it could get bunchy.

You can make or buy ankle bells. i make Niijii's out of some scrap leather we had left from making moccasins, then i got the jingle bells at Christmas time (Sleigh bells ;) ) Wal mart sells them year round and in different sizes. Jo Anne's and Micheal's sells them too, and even has different colors. Your not limited to gold and silver anymore. :)

I made Niijii's Scarf out a piece of material that i had left over. it was a kind of material that doesn't ravel, so i didn't have to worry about binding it off, but if i had (and it prolly would look pretty sharp too) i would have done it with the double fold bias tape.

Speaking of Bias tape, I LOVE IT!! it saves me a lot of time and effort. instead of spending time sewing the lining and the outer piece of material together i just slap a piece of bias tape over it and sew it down, everything is tucked in nice and neat. I even made Niijii a pair of Suspenders because his new regalia was to big at first :) it is now just right, but i still have the suspenders. You can layer the bias tape to give different effects and it follows along curves beautifully, and you can even corner with it.

Most of this you may already know if you make your own regalia, but this is what works for me :) Anyways Good Luck. Please feel free to look at Niijii's Pictures in my gallery, if something doesn't make sense in words, you might be able to understand it from the pictures. If you need anymore help, feel free to PM me :)

Niijii's Mom


Janet's easy way to attach fringe at Little Crow Trading Post
More tips for Attaching Fringe
A Discussion on fringe types and personal preference

Leather spreader instructions - including sockets.
Page 2 of this thread has some good info from WhoMe
Rocker style spreaders
More rocker info
Fluffs instead of roach feathers

Bells - specifically for straight dance, but the basic construction principles are there

Last edited by sookout sh'nob; 01-13-2015 at 04:28 PM.. Reason: added link to bell tutorial
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Old 03-14-2008, 04:10 PM   #2
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Awesome dancer.....One of a kind....
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Old 03-16-2008, 09:39 PM   #3
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Quote:
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Awesome dancer.....One of a kind....
True Enough! Now if I could just come up with a few more questions to answer. For now, check this lil gem out!

Last edited by sookout sh'nob; 03-16-2008 at 09:42 PM..
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Old 03-31-2008, 11:59 AM   #4
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Hmmm.....

Quote:
Originally Posted by sookout sh'nob View Post
True Enough! Now if I could just come up with a few more questions to answer. For now, check this lil gem out!
Well.....The ultra interesting thing about that link was how short it came up? Sort of tries to package it and it just won't fit? Reminded me of a 1970's style commercial or something.....I suppose people are trying to be informative, but reading...is one thing and being is another.....What's next Wal-Mart?
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Old 03-31-2008, 12:57 PM   #5
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I liked the link on the bottom of the page to the How to Discover a Native American Spirit Guide. Oy!
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Old 05-19-2008, 03:34 PM   #6
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FAQ updated

Added and edited a few items... any contributions, corrections, or additions are welcome.
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Old 07-31-2008, 06:10 AM   #7
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Wow! This post rocks
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Old 09-12-2008, 01:43 PM   #8
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a few questions to help the thread

What's the diffrence between grass dance styles? (i.e. northern and southern; old school and modern grass...)

How have Grass dance outfit changed over the years?

Why do Grass dancers sometimes seem "cocky"? (LOL....from my wife)

Why don't you see antenna style spreaders as much now a days?



I hope these give you some Ideas....I think this forum is a great idea
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Old 09-12-2008, 03:27 PM   #9
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What's the diffrence between grass dance styles? (i.e. northern and southern; ...) *L

Why don't you see antenna style spreaders as much now a days? These "antennas" have a meaning and purpose. Not too many individuals know how to interpret why these are worn.

How have Grass dance outfit changed over the years? Original grass dancers were almost nekkit. Todays grass dancers wear zippers and velcro.

Why do Grass dancers sometimes seem "cocky"? (LOL....from my wife) Because your wife knows a grass dancer that you don't know.
I hope these give you some Ideas....I think this forum is a great idea[/QUOTE]
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Old 10-01-2008, 04:53 PM   #10
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Old 10-01-2008, 05:56 PM   #11
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Quote:
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Why do Grass dancers sometimes seem "cocky"? (LOL....from my wife)
ditto, i miss the old school swingin and swayin, not the showin off!
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Old 10-01-2008, 09:08 PM   #12
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LMAOH........... cocky.... that's a gooter one. Personally I think Fancy Feather dancers are cockier and the singers are the cockiest....hahaha. I dunno, I have met some pretty bad *** grass dancers and never really been cocky to me....:D. Maybe cuz my lil one is one of them but I don't teach him to be cocky at all.

I have heard all those stories and the history of the grass dance. I don't know if any of you heard Tim Grant of Omaha Whitetail speaking about the grassdance on the Native public radio.... that was pretty cool and good. I heard it a couple of months ago while on a trip. It's good to have things like this on the net, I teach and educate my son alot on what he's doing. But the best way is to have good teachers and elders tell the stories directly. Which I am glad he's blessed that he does. Anyways......

Should be a thing advising oh how a certain style should be danced, for example, the double beats, the crow hops, etc. I love the oldstyle graceful slick smooth moves better than the frantic fancy fast doing a back flip in the air moves... Ooooo to see a dancer just move all so smoothly across the arena yet flip it up with a move here and there....wooo hoooo. But to see dancers who know how to dance that style of beat, correctly, is even better. But you know the crowds, they love that fast and furious...*S*. Personally I don't think grass dancers should be like the fancy dancers and dance all furiously crazy, oh well. Besides, what's happened to the old school double beat songs including the styles that hit the rim of the drums....ohhhhhh those songs send chills up the spine.

Oh well...... another day another world...LOL
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Old 10-03-2008, 08:34 AM   #13
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LOL.... It's good to see this forum active. My intent was to present questions that newbies might ask... as far as the cockiness goes....I think my wife's perception was skewed. She is very new to the PowWow life, and noticed that grass dancers seem proud of what they do (rightfully)....she also was intrigued by Grass Dance outfits being distinctly different than any other style......BTW the few Pow Wows that she has attended didn't have Fancy Feather Dancers in attendance so of course she noticed a Stark difference in grass dancers. I hope everyone is well and I thank you for the sharing of knowledge on this sight
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Old 10-03-2008, 10:10 AM   #14
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Another quick thought...
Nezba I completely agree on several things. I too preffer the graceful dancers over the furious. When I was younger I was taught that my outfit should move with purpose and unity. As I've come back to the circuit after several years; I've noticed more Grass Dancers that are "free" with their movements. I remember as a young child watching the men grass dance and being almost able to see a story in thier dance. Don't get me wrong I enjoy seeing the flashier moves sometimes (if they are done right), but I was taught that Grass Dance was a more traditional style than Fancy Feather.
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Old 10-05-2008, 06:55 PM   #15
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Old 11-21-2008, 03:45 AM   #16
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This is an awesome FAQ, especially for people like me who are new to powwows. Since I'm not of native decent and it's not my culture, I know I'll probably never get it when it comes to the meaning behind the dances, but it helps me to appreciate what I'm seeing beyond viewing the dances as abstract movements. From my first powwow the grass dancers were my favorite, along with fancy shawl for the women. The footwork for both reminds me of the martial arts I used to study years ago, as there's a great sense of balance and fluidity in the movements.

I never thought about there being old and new styles of the grass dance. Do other dances have traditional and modern styles as well?
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Old 11-22-2008, 07:40 AM   #17
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All of the male category styles do, and there is an older style of jingle dress dancing. I'm not sure about lady's traditional or fancy shawl. It seems to me that this is where a lot of the correct way vs. incorrect way arguments/discussions we see today are coming from.

In some histories, the big four male dance styles evolved out of the grass dance, which didn't look a dang thing like how it looks now until very, very recently.

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I never thought about there being old and new styles of the grass dance. Do other dances have traditional and modern styles as well?
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Old 11-24-2008, 12:09 PM   #18
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All of the male category styles do, and there is an older style of jingle dress dancing. I'm not sure about lady's traditional or fancy shawl. It seems to me that this is where a lot of the correct way vs. incorrect way arguments/discussions we see today are coming from.

In some histories, the big four male dance styles evolved out of the grass dance, which didn't look a dang thing like how it looks now until very, very recently.

There IS an older style to both the women's traditional and women's fancy.

Also the big four malde dance styles evolved around the Helushka man dance.
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Old 11-25-2008, 09:52 AM   #19
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to eliminate confusion...

Right, I should've made mention I'm one of those guys who uses the terms grass dance and helushka interchangeably... except when I really mean to illustrate the differences... then I don't.

What WhoMe said. Word is born.

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Also the big four malde dance styles evolved around the Helushka man dance.
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Old 11-29-2008, 09:04 AM   #20
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Hand drum?

Can someone please answer a question? If a grass dancer did a performance, say at an elementary school or a cub scout gathering, would it be inappropriate or unusual for him to dance to a hand drum instead of the usual powwow drum? Would this matter?

Thank you!
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