The Jingle Dress is a prayer or medicine dance to help heal afflicted people.
Most stories point to the origins among the Ojibwe of the Minnesota-Ontario boundary area, circa 1900 to 1920. Notice, the rows of decorative metal cones hang about 1 inch from the dresses and clink together as the dancer moves. The traditional Jingle Dress dance requires the dancer to not cross her feet, not dance in a backward moving direction and not complete a circle dance movement. She kept footwork light, agile, and close to the ground.
The contemporary Jingle Dress dance allows more fluidity, the dancer may cross her feet, complete full circle dance movement and may dance in a backward direction. Contemporary dresses are designed so the dancer may move more freely but the metal decorative cones remain. Additionally, contemporary dancers often carry an Eagle feather-fan during her dance. The Jingle Dress dance grew in popularity and cultural significance from the 1920s to around the 1950s only to experience decline then rise back-to-life in the 1980s with the advent of pow wow expansion and dance competition.
One story of how the Jingle Dress originated is during World War 1. An Ojibwe girl became very sick, possibly from the widespread Spanish influenza epidemic. Her father feared he was going to lose her and sought the Creator through prayer for a vision or dream to save his daughter. His prayers were answered, he saw the dress and the vision for the healing dance. He obeyed his vison by constructing the Jingle Dress and put the dress on his sick daughter. He instructed his daughter how to move her feet and body, for the healing dance, as she followed her father’s guidance and danced, she was cured. The healed Ojibwe girl sought out other girls, showing them how to make a jingle dress in the four sacred colors (red, yellow, white, and blue), with four rows of jingles made from tobacco can tops. The healed Ojibwe girl and three other girls became the heart of the Jingle Dress Dance Society.
Written by: Sophia Turningrobe
Spokane Tribe, Spokane WA
Siksika First Nation, Gleichen, Alberta, Canada
Pauquachin First Nation, Saanich British Columbia