The Oklahoma Feather Dance or “Fancy Dance” is one of the most popular styles of Native American dance as are the outfits seen at modern powwows. The Fancy Dance outfit, as such, has no single origin from within Native American tribes.
Fancy? You bet. These guys whirl and spin, creating flashing blurs of color with the bright bustles tied onto their lower backs and on their shoulder blades.
This event is the one that usually gets the crowd worked up at any powwow. The winner is generally a young man who is very athletic. You must be in great shape to do the jumps, the spins, and the occasional splits that these guys perform. Judges look not only for athletic ability, but also for those who interpret the music through their body and head movements. It is extremely important for each dancer to keep in step to the drumbeats. Points are deducted for dancers who do not finish exactly with the final drumbeat.
The most obvious items in the Fancy Dance outfit are great amounts of loom beaded sets of suspenders, belt cuffs, headband, and armbands. The designs are usually matching in all items and of a rainbow feather or geometric design. Beaded medallions and bustles on the forehead are also quite common.
Occasionally a breastplate will be used in place of the beaded suspenders or in conjunction with them. The other trademark of Fancy Dancers is the use of large feather bustles. Currently most bustles are color-coordinated with the bead work by using large amounts of feather hackles dyed the appropriate colors.
Small matching hackle bustles are sometimes worn as armbands. Hanging beneath the bottom bustle is a pair of trailers, usually with some ribbon work, made from navy blue, black or red wool.
Moccasins are Cheyenne style rawhide sole and may be partially or fully beaded. Sheep bells mounted on leather are worn just below the knee and below the bells about one or two inches, angora anklets are worn. The two apron pieces are usually navy blue, black or red wool or trade cloth. Decoration may be floral beadwork, ribbon work, or medallions. The apron is usually trimmed with ribbon or fringe. The side drops may be loom beaded strips or finger woven yarn. Chokers may consist of silk scarves, beaded strips, or bone hair pipes. Necklaces with medallion drops are also seen. A standard porky/deer-tail roach with two feathers attached to a rocker assembly tops the head, often with decoratively trimmed side feathers. Each dancer carries either a loose or flat fan and often a tubular whistle. Ribbon shirts are becoming more common, as are matching cape and aprons.
The dance style is of two types: a basic simple step while dancing around the Drum and a “contest” step with fast and intricate footwork combined with a spinning up and down movement of the body.