A dancer, clad in bright colors, sways and moves as a strand of grass in the wind. That same dancer, wearing long ribbons and fringes, flattens the grass as a young warrior preparing the ground for a ceremony. The dancer, an air of dignity in his whirling, patterned steps, celebrates victory over the enemy.
The grass dance has three possible interpretations, all of which are fascinating to consider while the graceful arc of the dancer holds the audience in thrall. One of the oldest surviving Northern plains dances, the grass dance is a popular feature at powwows. Requiring a high level of flexibility and athleticism, it is a dance often chosen by young men who have a certain someone to impress.
The grass dance regalia is different from all the other men’s dances because the dancer wears no bustle. They wear roach headdresses which can have a spreader and two plumes, or two feathers attached to spinners. The outfit is complex, requiring matching shirt, pants, and aprons decorated with yarn and ribbons, matched beadwork, headband, wrist cuffs, arm bands, long harnesses, and a belt with side drops. The dancer also wears fur leggings with bells around the ankles, and beaded moccasins, sneakers, or sometimes, aqua-socks. There are other ways to accessorize the outfit, which include wearing a bone choker, tie, or scarf, and in one hand a dancer often carries a fan, dream catcher, mirror, fur-wrapped hoop, or coup stick.
The flexible, swaying motion of the grass dancer is a favorite at powwows. “Don’t go snaggin’,” the MC might warn over the loudspeakers.
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.