The name “Grass Dance” comes from the custom of some tribes wearing braided grass in their belts. Before a dance could be held on the prairie the grass had to be stomped down. This is where many of the movements are believed to come from. Afterwards the dancers would tie the grass to their outfit. Many believe that the Omaha tribe originated the dance in their warrior societies.
Imagine grass blowing in the winds as you watch these dancers. See how the long fringe made of yarn or other material ripples, just as the long grasses move in waves as the spring winds kick across the plains. Being a grass dancer among the plain’s tribes, in which this dance first became popular, was an outstanding honor. In some communities, these dancers would go out into the field and select a spot where a sacred dance would be held, then they would pound down the grass with their feet. Dancers who wear dance bells must make sure the jingling follows the beat of the drum. Originally done as a Warrior Society Dance, it has evolved over the years. It has further evolved into a highly competitive form of northern dancing.
Grass Dancers always stand out by virtue of two things: their dancing style and their outfits. This type of dancing has often been described as “gutsy, swinging, slick, and old-time.” Their outfits stand out by virtue of the almost complete absence of feathers. Aside from the roach feather, there are no bustles of any kind to be seen. The unique parts of the northern outfit are the shirt, trousers, and aprons, to which yarn fringe, sequins, and beaded rosettes other designs are attached. The outfit makers are fond of using playing card designs-hearts, clubs, spades, and diamonds. Hearts and rosettes are the most common. White fringe is preferred; however, gold, silver, and other light color fringe is also used.
Bells are worn around the ankle and plains hard-sole or woodland soft-sole moccasins are worn.
The apron is probably the, most striking part. The front apron (or breech cloth) is decorated with beadwork, ribbon work, or a combination. The back apron has several colors of ribbons sewn in V-shapes. The ends hang loose for two to three feet. Ribbons also hang from the center.
Belts are usually fully beaded, and a “holster” or drop is worn on each side of the belt and reaches to shin level. Ideally, all of the beadwork matches. It may be floral, geometric, or a combination of both.
Characteristic of the outfit are the large, fully beaded cuffs or gauntlets, arm bands, chokers, occasional loop necklaces or breastplates, beaded collars and ties, and colorful scarves. The real prize is the beaded harness which reaches from the shoulders to below the knees. The two strips are usually connected by a large piece of beadwork which forms and hence the name “H-harness.” Tassels or ribbons hang from the end of the harness.
The perfect headdress is the porcupine hair roach which is attached to a head harness. It is decorated with rosettes, hearts, etc., and long drop stripped with fluffs, or drops made from chains or cafe curtain rings.
Dancers carry fans, Eagle-bone, or carved “screen” whistles (some which are made from metal tubes), mirror boards, and dance hoops of various sizes.