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Women’s Northern Traditional Dance

Traditional is a dance that exemplifies dignity, grace, and modesty.

The women can move in several ways. Some move in a bounce style, originated by the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota of the north. Some Traditional Women dancers zigzag or sidestep in a circle around the arena, always with a bounce movement.

Women’s Northern Traditional is much newer than its’ male counterpart. Before WWI, women were rarely permitted to dance inside the circle with the men, so they danced along the periphery. This style is based off of the dance moves that the women would do along the outside of the circle. Women were awarded the right to dance competitively inside the circle after WWII, when more women were called upon to serve in the military. Their newfound warrior status, the movement for Indigenous rights, and the push for more inclusive powwows are what eventually led to this change.

This dance style has more variation in its regalia than any other powwow dance style. Dancers often wear a full-length dress or a skirt and shirt combination that hits just below the knee. Typically made from buckskin or trade cloth, these outfits feature large fringe and are sometimes worn with matching leggings. Decorative pieces of shells, ribbons, and elks’ teeth are often added to the dress, with jewelry made from bone or shells as well. Some dancers wear shawls overtop or carry fans made from eagle feathers that they raise throughout the dance if they resonate particularly with any words in the song.

The steps of Women’s Northern Traditional are modest and elegant. Derived from the tradition of dancing outside of the circle, these subtle steps are only performed a few feet into the dance circle. In this style, the feet must never completely leave the ground to symbolize the connection of women to Mother Earth. The fringe on the sleeves must be kept in constant motion, sweeping in large arcs. Some traditions say that this slow style of dancing represents the long times that the women, children, and elders would have to spend waiting when the men went away to hunt or battle.


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