Origins of the Men’s Northern Traditional Dance Style
Men’s Northern Traditional dancing as a category is contemporary, and has evolved out of Plains style warrior society dances. Each Plains tribe had several warrior societies, and these societies had similar but contrasting ceremonies, regalia, and songs as each other. For many tribes, these dances were ritualistic, and pertinent to success for the warrior society members. Dances were considered property of specific tribes, and if another tribe wished to perform the dances without issue, they would buy or barter for the right to learn and own the dances as well. Included into the mix of pieced together warrior society dances, Men’s Northern Traditional dancing can also see elements of the Omaha or Grass Dance.
The Omaha or Grass Dance style does not resemble the contemporary Grass Dance known currently throughout Indian Country. The Omaha or Grass Dances refers to a specific dance style that is stated to have started by the Omaha, and then bought by other tribes. Today’s contemporary Northern Traditional outfits are usually based on late nineteenth century models, or older. The dance steps at one time were done to mimic war deeds, or hunting tactics. But due to changing times, the steps are left to be interpreted and executed by the dancer. The flashier the dancer can move, the more impressed judges, spectators, and other dancers will be.
Men’s Northern Traditional Dance Regalia: Historic Roots Lead to Contemporary Interpretation
The first time a person sees a Traditional Dancer, they may ask, “How can this dancer, with super glue, colored tape and bright outfits, be called traditional?” Today, traditional means not strictly adhering to the past, but instead it refers to a style that developed from the original dance many years ago. Around the late 1800’s, only a few dignified warriors were entitled to wear the articles of the traditional dancer, the roach and the bustle. As the dance progressed from tribe to tribe and went northward, tradition changed and more dancers began to put on a bustle and roach. The Lakota tribe is usually credited for the birth of this dance as a true style everyone participates in. The Lakota style, or Northern Traditional, still exists and is popular at dances in the South as well.
Men’s Northern Traditional dance and regalia have historical roots within Indian Country. Each tribe has individual protocols and demands that each dancer should consider when planning their dance clothing. Today, it is acceptable to use modern materials for the outfits. These modern choices keep the regalia in a durable state, and at times, helps the dancer stand out compared to other dancers in the category in a competition powwow. Due to the vastness of Men’s Northern Traditional as a dance category, we will only list the basics of clothing style. Any differences made to the basics listed above are purely done by the dancer and the dancers family.
Men’s Northern Traditional Dance Regalia
Many male powwow dancers choose this category due to the freedom a dancer can have in designing their outfit. The basic makings of a northern traditional dancer includes either fully or partially beaded moccasins, leggings or pants, dance bells, breechcloths or matching aprons and side tabs hooked to a belt. Moving up the dancer, ribbon shirts or a plain dress shirt are worn, covered by a full or partially beaded, or ribbon appliquéd vest. On top of that, some dancers wear one to two bandoliers from one shoulder to the apposing hip. A bone hairpipe breastplate may be worn, or some dancers wear a loop necklace. On their lower back, dancers where feather bustles, and a wide belt. Atop the head, a traditional dancer has numerous choices, ranging from the usual selection, a porcupine hair roach. However, some dancers can be seen wearing different varieties of headdresses, otter turbans, full animal skins or even military berets. A feather fan is carried in one hand, and the opposite hand can have a dance stick, old style weapon, gun, or shield.
Men’s Northern Traditional Dance Outfits Include:
Roach – Roach Spreader – Headband: On his head the traditional dancer wears a roach. The longer porcupine hair is preferred because of it’s movement. The roach spreader can be made of bone, metal, rawhide or leather. It can be carved, beaded, painted, etc. or just left plain. The roach feathers are inserted in sockets on the spreader, with two roach feathers being the usual number. The rocker spreader, popular with fancy dancers, is rarely seen. Occasionally one will see dancers wearing beaded headbands, often decorated with medallions or drops. Quilled wheels can also be worn in the hair.
Upper Torso: Most dancers wear a shirt, either with or without ribbon decoration. Over the shirt is worn a breastplate that usually extends below the waist. Around the neck is a choker either of hair pipes and beads or a beaded strip. Many dancers also wear two bandoliers of hair pipes and beads or a 3 to 5 inch strip or otter or other fur decorated with mirrors or a combination of both. A vest can be worn either of cloth or leather. Some are beaded.
Lower Torso: Leg Cover, Apron/Breechclout, Dance Bells:
On their legs most dancers wear beaded knee bands with 6 to 10 inch leather fringe hanging from the bottom edge. Around the ankles are worn angora “furs”. One may see the high fancy dance style furs worn with the bells tied on at the knees but this is less common. Although not as common, leggings can be worn in place of the furs and knee bands. Both the skin tube style and cloth flap leggings can be seen. When leggings are worn, the bells are tied round the knees. The bells can be almost any size and type. Fully or partially beaded, hard-soled moccasins are worn.
Men’s Northern Traditional Outfit Accessories: Arm bands and cuffs can be either beaded or metal or a combination of the two such as beaded cuffs with metal arm bands. The breech cloth or aprons can be made of either cloth or leather and range from plain to heavily decorated. Around the waist many dancers wear a belt, which can be beaded or decorated with metal tacks or conchos.
Your Source for Native American Men’s Northern Traditional Dance Regalia Craft Supplies
Crazy Crow Trading Post has long been your number one source for powwow craft supplies for your Native American dance regalia and other needs. This photo gallery represents Men’s Northern Traditional Dance outfits, mostly taken at Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We thank Derek Matthews of GatheringofNations.com, and Le Andra Peters of NewMexicoPowWows.com, and others who have given permission to present these photos in this gallery.