This dance was developed as a way for returning warriors to tell others what had happened during a hunting expedition or battle. As you watch a dancer you probably will see him acting out an encounter with an enemy or telling how he chased down a powerful animal. Look at the dancers' faces. Often, they are painted in distinctive styles that once were intended to strike fear into their opponents.
Judges will not only watch the dancers' steps but will measure how well they are interpreting this unique dance.
The Northern Traditional Dance regalia is a modern evolution of tribal outfits from the tribes of the Northern Plains such as Sioux, Blackfoot, Crow, Omaha, and others. As such, variations in their regalia will exist from area to area and from tribe to tribe. Careful observation and research need to be undertaken before starting to construct this type outfit.
On his head the Traditional Dancer wears a roach made of porcupine hair and deer tail hair. The longer porcupine hair is preferred because of its movement. The roach spreader can be made of bone, metal, rawhide, or leather. It can be carved, beaded, painted, or just left plain. The roach feathers are inserted in sockets on the spreader, with two roach feathers being the usual number. Occasionally one will see dancers wearing beaded headbands, often decorated with medallions or drops. Quilled wheels can also be worn in the hair.
Most dancers wear a shirt, either with or without ribbon decoration. A breastplate that usually extends below the waist is worn over the shirt. A choker worn around the neck is either of hair pipes and beads or a beaded strip. Many dancers also wear two bandoliers of hair pipes and beads or a 3 to 5-inch strip of otter or other fur decorated with mirrors or a combination of both. A vest can be worn either of cloth or leather and some vests are beaded.
Arm bands and cuffs can be either beaded or metal or a combination of the two such as beaded cuffs with metal arm bands. The breech cloth or aprons can be made of either cloth or leather and range from plain to heavily decorated. Many dancers wear a belt, which can be beaded or decorated with metal tacks or conchos.
On their legs most dancers wear beaded knee bands with 6 to 10-inch leather fringe hanging from the bottom edge. Angora “furs” are worn around the ankles. One may see the high fancy dance style furs worn with the bells tied on at the knees, but this is less common. Although not as common, leggings can be worn in place of the furs and knee bands. Both the skin tube style and cloth flap leggings can be seen. When leggings are worn, the bells are tied round the knees. The bells can be almost any size and type.
Fully or partially beaded, hard-soled moccasins are worn.
The feather bustle is usually the u-shaped type with a single row of wing or tail feathers and two spikes pointing upward. Sometimes additional rows of dyed and stripped feathers, fluffs or hackles are on the inside row of the bustle.
The dancer can carry a range of objects such as a wing fan, pipe bag, or dance stick. Dancers must make sure that objects they are holding move in time with the ever-present drumbeat.