What is the history of the Fancy Shawl Dance? Did it originate in the northern plains states in the 1930s?

First, I would like to say that powwow in itself is intertribal/influenced by many tribes and certain styles and dances vary by region and I think there are multiple right answers when it comes to how certain styles or parts of powwow originated and developed. Because of this, my answer is not clear-cut, but I think that is one of the beautiful things about powwow, it is not simple, but rather complex and beautiful, just like the many tribes, people and communities who helped to influence it.

I can only speak for myself and the opinions expressed are my own as a Native person living and growing up in the Northwest.

Growing up in the powwow community I was always told that women’s fancy shawl was one of the newest styles of powwow dance styles. I learned by word of mouth that men’s fast and fancy existed before women’s fancy, but women also wanted to be able to dance a fast and aerobic style so around the 1950’s women begin dancing like men’s fancy. From there, women’s fancy has evolved into what we see today, but I don’t think of it as a linear progression.

I think powwow has taken on a life of its own, a culture and tradition of its own, while of course there are some regional differences.

Powwow is a microcosm that is influenced by those who are involved in it, and also takes an active role in influencing those same participants. Therefore, I see many dance styles as more fluid in nature rather than stagnant, they simultaneously evolve and take on new components of style and movement while also incorporating or sometimes returning to older styles and movement. And I think that is one of the beautiful things about powwow.

To me, powwow dancing is a representation of honoring the past while creating the future and impacting the now.

I think it is important to know how something started, but also important to know the context of it today and what it means now.

Today, many people associate women’s fancy shawl dancing with butterflies, and often when I’m dancing or practicing dancing part of my mantra is to be light, quick and graceful like a butterfly. But it also feels empowering to know that through decades of oppression and periods of time when practicing our cultural beliefs as Native people were banned, that today powwow has lived on and been nurtured by us, collectively, as Indigenous people and those are often the thoughts that make me excited to dance.

Take care and thanks for writing in!

Auntie Rosa

Fancy Shaw Dancer

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