Women’s Fancy Shawl—often mistakenly thought to be a dance that traces back far in history but is actually a fairly recent innovation—is one of the most anticipated competitions at pow wows. In this unique performance, young women from many nations skim, twirl and hop across the arena with a gait that manages to be staccato, lithe, and fluid all at once.
Ladies Fancy Shawl is the newest form of Native American Women's Dance and is quite athletic! It is often called Northern Shawl, as it come from the Northern Tribes along the U.S. and Canadian Border. It is similar in dancing and bright colors to the Men's Fancy Dance.
The ladies wear their shawls over their shoulders, and dance by jumping and spinning around, keeping time with the music. They mimic butterflies in flight, and the dance style is quite graceful and light.
The fringed shawl, moccasins and leggings are found on virtually every competitor, along with a flared skirt that might be attached to a top, and a beaded overlay, usually a vest or yoke. Emphasis is paid particularly to the shawls, with elaborate designs, applique, ribbon work, and painting. Long fringe hangs from the edges of the shawl, and flies around the dancer.
Footwork tends to be decided by the individual; there is no particular set of steps to which dancers must adhere, and balance and symmetry are more esteemed than fancy moves. At least one foot should hit the ground with each drumbeat, except during jumps or spins; the dancer’s head also keeps time with the beat, though not nearly as emphatically as one might see in men’s fancy dance. Poise, endurance, showmanship, agility, and grace are the prized attributes. As with all pow wow dancing, dancing to the tone, style and rhythm of the song is essential, and not ending with the final drumbeat will get a dancer disqualified.