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The Jingle Dress

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  • The Jingle Dress

    Posted by flyingheart2

    Well I have missed writing and as everyone knows a writer is not whole without writing. So, with that said I asked my sister what I should write about this time. Her response was Jingle Dress Dancing. She told me that she had always wanted to be a jingle dress dancer but at 48 I think that fantasy has come and gone.

    I have always liked the Jingle Dress dancers, whirling and twirling while making noises like human wind chimes. But, the question that always kept coming to my mind as I watched them dance is: Just how do those ladies sit down in those dresses? It would seem to me like sleeping in rollers and as anyone that has ever slept that way knows, it's no fun.

    I have watched mesmerized as these ladies kept those bells swinging in just the right rhythm to compliment the drum.

    A little history about the Jingle dress. As I understand it, the first jingles, which are called cones for folks in the know, were made from discarded tobacco tin lids. You know we Native folks have always been some of the most resourceful critters in the entire universe. If we couldn't use something as a tool we wore it on some part of our body as decoration or used it for the same in our lodges. As I understand it from the teachings of the elders most of the small jingles you see adorning some of the regalia at powwows were originally brass and steel cartridges from bullets that were fired during many of the "Indian Wars". You see we Natives love to dance and we love things that make noises and are shiny. Some tribes would call this crow medicine because crows love to pick up shiny things as well. Well, I digress. Anyway, each and every cone on the old dresses was hand heated and bent into a cone shape and then lovingly sewn onto a dress by someone, usually an elder lady that must have loved you very much as this is a very laborious task. These dresses were first used as ceremony clothing cause who in their right mind would want to wear one whilst gathering berries and wood, I ask you.

    In the old days some tribes would use noisy things during ceremonies to drive away any dark spirits that might be lurking about and trying to intrude on the gathering.

    Nowadays these wonderful sounding cones, which are still made from tin and some, are even replicas of the old tobacco can lids with old brand names and such. Where they used to be attached to cotton or buckskin, now they are attached to the likes of satin, cotton and in some cases silk dressed. Usually in wonderfully bright colors with ribbons and in many cases intricate beadwork and/or quillwork. Now there is some tedious work for sure, but it sure does make them look wonderful.

    The footwork in these dances is some of the most intricate steps that you will see performed at any powwow or other dance for that matter. I have watched as children as young as 2 years old have tried as best they can to emulate their sisters and/or mothers, aunts etc. do these steps. To you or I they sure make it look easy but watching these children grow more adept from year to year at the local powwow shows me just how long it takes to master this technique.

    It makes my heart soar to watch the next generations come so willingly to dance. They will take our memories, stories, and culture into the next hoop of time.

    On hot days when I watch at the summer powwows, those ladies feet are moving so fast and seemingly without effort that it makes my heart shine with pride for my heritage. To think that at one time we were thought of as lazy. I've seen those ladies come out of that ring with even their cones sweating. Lazy, I think not.

    So the next time you are fortunate enough to be at the powwow enjoying fry bread and buffalo burgers and listening to the drum that has beat through time before time for Spirit and the people, take a good look at these lovely ladies in their Jingly dresses. Take special notice of their steps, so light and graceful and know that they tread lovingly on the earth mother as they have done for generations, celebrating culture, heritage and the history of a people that still endeavor to walk in harmony with all of creation.
    Thanks for letting me share. May your path be soft and full of light.
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