He Dreamed of 4 Jingle Dresses

100 years ago, an Ojibwe elder dreamed of four women wearing a beautiful new style of dress. They taught him the special songs they danced to and how to make the garments. He woke up and told his wife everything he had heard and seen. Together, they made four dresses, in yellow, green, blue and red using curled snuff can lids as the noise-making decorations across the torso and fringe. His wife was the first jingle dress dancer.

The Jingle Dress at 100 Exhibit, Mille Lacs Indian Museum   Photo: R. Cuningham

Their granddaughter fell gravely ill with influenza. Her grandmother asked her to wear one of the special dresses they’d made to a pow-wow celebration. The first time around the circle, the grandparents carried her. The second, the girl walked with support. The third loop their granddaughter danced, suddenly and miraculously well. Their granddaughter lived a long full life.

American Indian ceremonial dancing was banned during the early 1900s in the US and Canada in an attempt to stamp out traditional Native religious beliefs and practices. But women continued to perform the jingle dress dance. In fact, it expanded when Dakota women adopted this Ojibwe custom as well. Today, the best dancers show their stuff at pow-wows across the United States and Canada. One of the most athletic dances for  women, the jingle dress dancers twist and turn to make a joyful noise with their movements.

Jingle dress display at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum

Jingle dresses are a symbol of American Indian cultural resistance, spirituality and female empowerment.

What kind of dancing inspires you?

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! ¡Olé! –Rebecca


See what the photographers are up to today for Six Word Saturday!


Rebecca Cuningham

33 thoughts on “He Dreamed of 4 Jingle Dresses

  1. This is my first time hearing of this type of dance. However, I must admit I have seen this type of dresses quite a lot. The history is very interesting, and makes me want to get one for myself 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely 🙂 In my country, we always have a lot of cultural events that require us to wear traditional clothing that can be from our country or a different one to celebrate diversity. I now have another option to add 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Shana, well since I am a European American, and do not belong to an indigenous tribe, I would not wear the traditional sacred jingle dress of the Ojibwe tribe. Due to the spiritual, medicinal and religious meaning of the dress and the dance, it would not be appropriate to appropriate. I’d want to respect the sacred meaning of the dance and honor the culture of Native people. I imagine you might feel the same way. Hope you can see a pow wow some day!


  2. I love jingle dance dresses and included them in my book, Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone. Amanda and her friend watch a First Nations jingle dance performance at the Calgary Stampede. The jingle dance is very popular with the Plains Indians. Thanks for the history of how the dresses came to be. I find the First Nations Culture fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like a great Amanda adventure. The jingle dresses are worn by First Nations women across the living Plains culture of North America, as you said. So wonderful you reflected that in your book!


    1. Happy to hear you’re connecting with your heritage and have had the chance to attend a pow wow. I got to dance during an all nations song at a pow wow once. The drumming and singing are powerful and moving. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your story. -Rebecca

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m finding this a bit late, but I’d love to see those dances. My mother had a gold sparkling mini dress covered all over with bells just like the ones in your photos. She passed it on to me and I wore it to parties and danced in it in my twenties, just as she would have done. It was marvellous!


    1. Hope you can visit Minnesota or Wisconsin for an Autumn pow-wow some year! The dances are beautiful to see and hear (the bells). I can see why someone made a fashion of it in the UK in the 60s for a dance frock. I bet it was fun to wear. Cultural appropriation was not forefront on our minds in those decades, I wanted a jingle dress when I saw one as a child.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Still feeling awful about it.

        The point I was clumsily making is that the costumes gave us two little girls freedom to role-play something far more active and exploratory than the classic tea parties with all our dolls. We also were quite convinced that the cowboys were bad guys, perhaps because we so deeply became our conception of native american girls. My baby brother played an innocent native baby stolen by cowboys on many occasions.

        Liked by 1 person

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