The men’s fancy dance is one of the most exuberant and wildly original powwow styles. Dancers, who are clad in flashy regalia, often in shades of bright neon and embroidered with elaborate applique patterns, dance fast, displaying an aerobic set of often choreographed moves. This dance is difficult to describe. Sherman Alexie, Spokane Indian and author of multiple books of poetry and prose, wrote an entire book of poems entitled The Business of Fancy dancing, but never described the way it looks. It is fantastic and absorbing, absolutely entertaining, with a heart-stopping finale where the dancer abruptly stops in a theatrical pose at exactly the moment the song end
The outfit worn is flashy to attract the judges’ attention. Sequins and day-glo ribbons are used, often with traditional beadwork accompanying the designs. Two bustles are worn on the back, and two smaller ones on the arms. The dancer often wears a fully beaded headband, armbands, knee-length harness and cross-piece, belt, side-drops, and moccasins. He also wears feathers and a rocker spreader, aprons, and side-drops. Bells are worn just below the knee, which ring and shake constantly throughout the song. The dancer also wears fur leggings.
The fancy dance is a must-see at any powwow. Aspiring fancy dancers should know that such an outfit would take a long time to fully sew and bead, unless you’re lucky enough to have beadwork artists and seamstresses in the family. But by the time you get out on the competition floor, your flashiest tricks choreographed and ready, you’ll feel proud and filled with honor as the first fast beats begin.
Misty Lynn Ellingburg (Shoalwater Bay) is a student at SeattlePacific University, majoring in English (concentration Literature) and minoring in Professional Writing. She has two brothers and two sisters–Brandt, Shana, Hope, and Hunter. Her mom, Lory, is a Tribal artist, and her dad, Todd, is becoming fluent in Salish, a local Tribal language. Her favorite Native writers are Leslie Marmon Silko, LouiseErdrich, and Sherman Alexie. She even met Mr. Alexie in Seattle at a book reading where she got his autograph and a picture taken together.