top of page

Prairie Chicken Dance

An elder told me about a hill in eastern Montana, called chicken hill ("shiobaha"), so named for the prairie chickens found dancing there. Their dance was taught to men, and it continues to this day. So says the old story:

“A long time ago in the buffalo days, a man went hunting early one morning. It was really foggy outside, so the man decided to wait for the fog to clear and then he would continue hunting. He went up on this hill, above the layer of fog to wait. As he sat there waiting, he fell asleep.

While he was lying there asleep, he heard some noise ("dig'dee" dig'dee") and when he looked there were prairie chickens dancing all around him on that hill. As one of them prairie chickens danced by, he asked him what they were doing, the prairie chicken replied, "we are dancing".

How do you do that, the man asked? The prairie chicken held up his wings and said like this. He showed the man how to dance like the prairie chickens do. The man woke up from his dream and when he returned home, he shared his dream with his people.

The male prairie chickens dance for the female hens each spring during courtship and mating. They puff out their chests, stomp their feet, shake their heads, fan their tail feathers out in a round fashion and dance. As the male prairie chicken dances, he also throws his top feathers down towards the ground. This is all done to attract the attention of the hens.

That is why prairie chicken dancers have those two top feathers with fluffs on the tips. As they dance, they are supposed to also bend downwards so the top feathers drop forward and towards the ground. There are various songs that go with this dance and they even have ceremonies much like the grass dance society.

You can watch prairie chickens do this dance during the spring months, early in the morning. You can also hear the sound that they make as they dance (dig'dee, dig'dee).”

Historically, this style is sort-of a predecessor to fancy dancing, but it has been making a strong comeback. Chicken dancers usually are registered with northern traditional dancers at contests, although some powwows have chicken dance specials. It would be interesting to see a powwow where chicken dancers have their own category.

Chicken Dancers tend to wear very flamboyant regalia colors with flowery designs, round bustles with matching side bustles on the shoulders. Their movements imitate strutting roosters, preening themselves.

These dancers will dance to various types of songs. Often, they get the old-style double-beat crow hop, sometimes they get combination songs (double-beat crow hop and straight-shake), sometimes they dance to straight songs and, sometimes they get a duck and dive depending on the discretion of the person running the contest.


bottom of page