Styles of Dance Regalia
Ladies Cloth Dress
This style of dress has many different looks. Many of the Eastern & Southeastern tribes wear long full cotton dresses, or skirts worn with cape-like blouses. Many women of the Woodland tribes wear a form of appliqué on their skirts and shawls called "ribbonwork". This term refers to wide bands of appliqué that were originally created by using brightly-colored wide silk ribbons, layered on top of each other, with designs cut out of the topmost layers. Many of the Plains and Plateau tribes wear T-dresses, an "Indian" version of a one-piece A-line dress with large open sleeves, which may have intricate designs sewn or beaded onto them. Southwestern tribes such as the Navaho are often distinguished by an abundance of turquoise and silver jewelry.
Ladies Buckskin Dress
There are two distinct styles in this category, Northern and Southern. A Southern buckskin outfit consists of a partially-beaded skirt, top, high-top boot moccasins, a southern-style purse, dance shawl, and an feather dance fan. The dancers often wear chokers, beaded hair ties and fur hair extensions. The styles of beadwork differ greatly among the tribes, and although these dresses may have extensive beadwork, the tops are not fully-beaded. Modern dresses have very long fringes hanging from their sleeves. Southern dancers will dance with very dignified, graceful steps around the arena.
Ladies Fancy Shawl
This is a modern style of dance, introduced in the 1960’s, when it was often called "Graceful Shawl". The story I’ve heard is that the women were so moved by the music, that they began to dance in a more energetic style, some saying that their open shawl represents the wings of a butterfly. It is very popular among the younger girls and women. They wear a yoke or vest/yoke combination which is either beaded or elaborately-appliquéd or sequined, a flared knee-length skirt, and a shawl opened wide over their shoulders and held at the edges in both hands. They also wear leggings which are beaded or elaborately-appliquéd cloth or sequins, and beaded moccasins. They usually wear eagle plumes and/or feathers, and long ribbon streamers hanging from their beaded hair ties.
Ladies Jingle Dress
This dress originated with the Ojibway tribes in Canada, but has spread throughout pow-wow country. It is often called an "medicine" dress, as it was originally conceived in the vision of a medicine man, as a means to heal a dying girl, who recovered and lived to an old age. This dress is made with hundreds of small rolled tin cones, originally made from Copenhagen tobacco tin lids, sewn into rows on the dresses. They make a beautiful soft "swishing" noise as the ladies dance, and these dresses are quite heavy. Most dancers today still respect the origins of this dance, and ask for permission from a member of one of these original tribes to wear this dress. In the Northern country, ladies will still dance this style clear into their seventies.
Mens Southern Straight or Southern Traditional
This dance is widely known as "The Pride of Oklahoma", and is often announced as such at pow-wows. This graceful, dignified style comes from the dances done by the warrior societies of old. The dancer "tells a story", tracking his prey or enemy, pointing to tracks along the way. The traditional style of this dance is smooth and graceful, and the dancer is supposed to land on the left foot on the last beat of the song. The jerky, aggressive hopping or skipping sometimes seen today is done by unknowledgeable dancers, or those determined to catch the attention of the judges in a contest.
Mens Northern Traditional
This is the Northern equivalent of a Southern Straight dancer, with a few important differences. Northern traditional dancers may wear skin aprons instead of wool, and they don’t have the long "tail" attached to their aprons like a Southern Straight dancer. A trailer is attached to their eagle feather bustle which is worn at the back of the waist. Most wear fully-beaded side-drops over their aprons. Their leggings, if worn, are usually made of skins. They may wear ribbon shirts or vest, beaded yokes, breastplates, and a porcupine-hair roach. Some tribes may wear an eagle or hawk-feather cap, or an appropriate animal skin as a headdress. They dance with an eagle staff, war lance, or the like, a shield, and an eagle-feather fan. They dance in a rather aggressive manner, in step with the drum, telling the story of a battle or tracking a prey as they dance. They will often be featured doing a "sneak-up" dance, crouching before the attack. Some people say this dance style originated with he Omaha tribe in Nebraska.
Mens Fancy War Dance
This is a modern style, often said to represent the modern pow-wow. It originated in the "Wild West" shows in Oklahoma around the turn of the century as a showy, attention-getting spectacle for the trainloads of crowds from eastern cities who traveled to Oklahoma to see what was left of the "wild frontier". All of us Okies know who the original dancers were, and their fame lives on long after their passing. This is a very fast, energetic style danced by mostly younger men. The dancers wear two bustles, one at the waist and one at the back of the shoulders. These may be eagle feathers, or colorful dyed feathers with ribbon or horse-hair streamers hanging from the tips of the feathers. They usually dance to "trick" songs that have abrupt stops, trying to "trick" the dancers into messing up and over-stepping the end of the song.
Mens Grass Dance
This is a very old, traditional dance, whose origins go back long before memory. Some say these dancers originally flattened the tall prairie or buffalo grass for an upcoming dance, or for a new campsite for the tribe. Others say it originated with warriors sneaking up in the tall grass. Whatever the origins, it is a popular and colorful dance today. The dancers wear shirts or yokes and long aprons, with yarn or ribbon sewn onto them to resemble long grass tufts. Their dance is supposed to imitate the grass blowing in the breeze, long and willowy, with fairly graceful swaying movements. They wear pants with yarn sews onto legs also, and may wear a breastplate, loop necklace, or beaded "harness" in front. A porcupine hair roach, eagle feather fan, and neck scarf completes the outfit.