“A single jingle makes no sound, yet together they have the power to heal.”
Did you know the origin of the jingle dress dance dates back more than 100 years?
In the year 1918, a pandemic swept through North America, devastating Native American communities. Now almost exactly a century later, another pandemic has taken root and ravaged communities, economies and livelihoods—upending life as we know it.
The parallels between the century-old epidemic and the modern-day pandemic are borderline eerie. However, this is exactly why Native women began passionately dancing in the first place: to heal the land and the people.
Today, jingle dress dances are performed in various bright colors, textures and accessories. Native American women perform them from coast to coast with a single purpose of spirituality, healing, and wellness.
According to the National Congress of American Indians:
“The dresses—also known as Prayer Dresses—are lined with rows and rows of metal cones, or ziibaaska’iganan, traditionally made from a rolled-up snuff can lid and hung from the dress. The cones create another melody as the dancers move, mimicking the sound of falling rain and bringing a sense of peace to the whole endeavor.”
A Prolific Project
“Heal the land and heal the people.”
This is the inspiration behind the movement of the project Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project.
A Diné (Navajo) Nation photographer, Eugene Tapahe, documents on YouTube why he decided to begin working with jingle dress dancers and what motivated him to bring this cultural craft to light.
Watch a brief video on what jingle dress dancing means to Native communities and learn the origins of the project.
Originally, the jingle dress was an Ojibwe tradition of the Great Lakes, but then it moved along to the Dakota people, and throughout Canada and parts of the United States.
What’s interesting about the timing of the emergence of the jingle dress dance is that it aligned with the federal government’s work to actively suppress Indian dance and religion across the United States. In fact, there was a “dance order,” that explicitly prohibited such traditions of music and dance. The movement had been largely confined to the Ojibwe women of Minnesota and Canada, but shortly thereafter, it exploded to become a Pan-Indian phenomenon.
Dancing on Native lands is often viewed as a sacred practice—symbolic of the healing process, being able to reclaim the land, and the healing of the Native people themselves who live on it.
What It Truly Means
There are thousands of women throughout North America who call themselves jingle dress dancers. They are the champions of the healing power of dance and music, and their artistic expression inspires more people than they may ever know.
Native American writer and poet, MariJo Moore, described the reason jingle dress dancers dance and what it truly means to honor their culture and people:
“Why we dance: to dance is to pray, to pray is to heal, to heal is to give, to give is to live, to live is to dance.”
Many jingle dress dancers acknowledge the honor that it is to partake in the tradition, because they are not merely dancing for themselves. They are also dancing for those who came before them, for the elders, and for all of those who cannot dance.
Jingle Dancing in Popular Culture
Jingle dress dancing is not hidden away behind the walls of Native communities; it is portrayed in popular culture in the form of movies, music, documentaries, and artwork.
Some examples of this include:
- The Jingle Dress movie, which debuted back in 2014.
- Indigenous dress dancing going “viral” during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Jingle dress dancers honoring George Floyd at the site where he was killed
- The Gathering of Nations, which featured beautiful jingle dress dancers
- Professional jingle dress artwork, including these by Fine Art America (you can find various artwork on Pinterest and Etsy)
- “The Jingle Dress Tradition,” a documentary on PBS (Ojibwe elders offer stories on this powerful and popular custom)
If you’re looking for more info on the jingle dress dance or related artwork, luckily, you won’t have to search too hard.
Those who dance for their nation, for their culture, and for themselves are inspiring others to do the same. Their actions are cathartic and a much-needed reminder that better days are ahead.
We don’t know what the future holds; but we do have control over what we do as individuals and within our communities to bring about peace, hope, and healing.
And that is what jingle dress dancing is all about.