The Fancy Shawl dance is one of the most athletic dance styles. It is also the most recent, created to allow Native American women to express the same enthusiasm and show-style as the men’s Fancy Dance. The dance has two steps: a regular dance, and a crow hop.
To dance this style requires flashy regalia, oftentimes with fully beaded yoke, hair clips, wrist cuffs, bracelets, and moccasins. Sequins can be used to create a flashier look. But the entire outfit hinges around the shawl, which has applique patterns, long, flowing ribbons, and serves as the centerpiece of the outfit–and the dance.
The dance is said to imitate the graceful, swooping beauty of a butterfly; therefore, dancers always hold at least one of their arms out, because a butterfly is never seen without at least one wing aloft. The dancers are judged for creativity and innovation in their dance steps. Rhythm and repetition adds a sense of order to the unique dance; if a dancer does a trick with one foot, they need to be able to do it with the other. If they dance to the left, they should be able to dance to the right. Often times, steps are repeated in sequences of four, to represent the four directions and balance.
The second step, the crow hop, is an imitation of the way a crow moves across the ground.
At powwows, the Fancy Shawl is one of the most popular to watch. It’s simply amazing to see the athleticism of the dancers, view their carefully crafted and matched outfits, and imagine the hours and hours they must have spent practicing to participate in this essential Native dance style.
Misty Lynn Ellingburg (Shoalwater Bay) is a student at Seattle Pacific 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, Louise Erdrich, and Sherman Alexie. She even met Mr. Alexie in Seattle at a book reading where she got his autograph and a picture taken together.