The jingle dress: The story behind a Native American dance and its power of spiritual healing


Category:  News & Politics

Via:  1stwarrior  •  3 weeks ago  •  13 comments

The jingle dress: The story behind a Native American dance and its power of spiritual healing

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

When the United States was hit with the influenza pandemic in 1918, the women of the Ojibwe tribe practiced a healing ritual known as "the jingle dress" dance. It is characterized by the tinkling sounds made by the silver cones that adorn the dress each time the dancer moves.

And now, one century later, as the   COVID-19 pandemic devastates Native American communities , a Navajo photographer and his daughters have taken the "jingle dress" tradition on a journey across the country to bring spiritual healing to the land and raise awareness about the marginalization of Indigenous communities.

"It kind of sounds like rain on top of like a tin," said Sunni Begay, one of the jungle dress dancers. "The dance is like a prayer so the sounds kind of carry into heaven."

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in the spring of 2020, Eugene Tapahe, a landscape photographer from the Navajo reservation in Window Rock, Arizona, was out of work.

"[I was] worrying about how I was going to make money and how I was going to make ends meet," he said.

COVID-19’s toll on the Navajo Nation

After three weeks of initial quarantine, it became clear the pandemic was here to stay and it hit Navajo Nation hard.

Tapahe's aunt, who lived in a home on the Navajo reservation, died of COVID-19, and for Tapahe, that's when "the pandemic really hit home."

A few days after burying his aunt, Tapahe said that he was feeling increasingly despondent when he had a dream where he was sitting in Yellowstone National Park, a place that had always been a refuge for his family, and heard the sounds of a Native American healing dance.

"I was watching the bison, they were grazing up on the grass and the sun was setting," he said, and, "that's when I saw jingle dress dancers coming onto the grass."

He said it "really made me feel calm, peaceful, and then made me feel like there was hope."

Tapahe said he was inspired to launch a photography project that takes the spiritual "healing power" of the jingle dress across the country. He recruited four jingle dress dancers for the project: his daughters, Erin and Dion, along with family friends Sunni and JoAnni Begay.

All of the photoshoots have taken place in nature at the site of popular landmarks in the U.S. and national parks -- from Minnesota to California. Tapahe said he chose to use natural light to capture photos of the young women dancing and posing in their jingle dresses in those locations.

Through   "Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project,"   the group has traveled over 25,000 miles so far and visited 18 different states.


The history of the jingle dress

The Tapahes and the Begays are members of the Navajo tribe of North American Indians, which is based in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, but the jingle dress originated as a tradition of the Ojibwe tribe.

Brenda Child, a historian at the University of Minnesota who teaches American Indian Studies, is Red Lake Ojibwe and the granddaughter of a jingle dress dancer. She has studied the origins of the jingle dress, which was celebrated in a   2019 exhibit   at the university to mark its 100th anniversary, and how it became connected to modern day activism.

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Child told ABC News the modern tradition first started in the aftermath of the influenza pandemic on 1918, when "a new healing movement" emerged in the Ojibwe communities of Minnesota and Ontario, Canada.

"The story of [the] first jingle dress dancer that's told in Canada, as well as in Minnesota, is about a little girl who was healed by the sound, the tinkling sound of these metal cones that were sewn onto the jingle dress," Child said. "It's also very much about healing the mind and healing the spirit."

The dancers for this current project told ABC News they met in a dance group at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City, Utah, and they each wear a unique jingle dress.

The dance is like a prayer so the sounds kind of carry into heaven.

Over the decades, the Ojibwe women spread the jingle dress tradition to other Native American communities and the jingle dress became a "flourishing tradition adopted by many tribal people," Child said.

Connecting with the land

The first photo shoot for the project was at the Bonneville Salt Flats in northwestern Utah and from then on, Tapahe said the group took the jingle dress dance to national and state parks around the country -- from Minnesota, to California -- to capture a series of images of the places where their ancestors once lived.

"I really felt like those were the lands that were colonized first," Tapahe said.

Erin Tapahe, who ran the Boston Marathon on Indigenous People's Day last month, said that through running and dancing, "every time my foot touches the earth," it is a spiritual experience and for Native Americas.

"Being able to have our own spirituality with the land is very important," she said.

"We don't see land as a method of ownership. We see land as just kind of a part of our being," she told ABC News. "And we understand that the land is our caretaker and so we need to take care of it."

Dion Tapahe told ABC News it's important to include Native American voices when it comes to decisions related to the land -- from building infrastructure, to environmental issues -- because Indigenous people "are very important stewards and have a lot of knowledge that should be resourced."

Representing missing and murdered Indigenous women

According to the group, this project, which they have documented on social media, has given them a platform to speak out on issues that are important to Indigenous communities.

One issue close to the heart of the Tapahe family is   missing and murdered Indigenous women , and it became a part of the project through the red scarves worn by the dancers -- a color that has become a symbol to raise awareness about the issue.

Eugene Tapahe said his cousin is missing and his family has been searching for her for years.

Prior to the project, Tapahe designed the silhouette of a dancer on a red scarf to represent the women who are missing and in each photoshoot for the project, the dancers have worn those scarves.

"I've always been an advocate for the missing and murdered Indigenous women," he said. "Every time we dance, we're honoring those that are missing."

Begay said there's a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women because efforts to find the women lack funding and infrastructure, and by bringing awareness to the issue, they want to highlight that Native people "are important and their family members are important."



jrDiscussion - desc
Professor Guide
1  seeder  1stwarrior    3 weeks ago

One of the most relaxing and enjoyable moments to share at a pow-wow with friends/relatives.

The dancers are surely giving us Mother Earth's heartbeat.

You can't out do it.

Sophomore Participates
1.1  shona1  replied to  1stwarrior @1    3 weeks ago

Morning 1st...good on them..may they travel far and wide across your Lands...

Professor Principal
2  Kavika     3 weeks ago

I'm from the Red Lake Ojibwe band and in addition to the pandemic (Spanish Flu) which my grandmother and her one-week-old daughter died in. There were so many deaths that the bodies were put in ice houses (wooden structures with sawdust in them that blocks of ice were put in to keep it cool. This was from my great uncle, grandmother, and grandfather from my father's side of the family and my grandmother's husband all told to me first hand. 

The Jingle Dance was born but that same year there was another disaster that took place in northern MN. The Cloquet-Moose Lake wildfire that burned 20 plus towns to the ground, killed around 500 and an unknown number of NA's on their reservation. 

It was a horrible time for the people of Northern MN and especially for NA's. 


Mille Lacs Ojibwe circa 1920.

Professor Guide
2.1  seeder  1stwarrior  replied to  Kavika @2    3 weeks ago

Damn sad history Kavika - I'm glad to see the come back for your people.

Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
2.1.1  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  1stwarrior @2.1    3 weeks ago

Truly heartbreaking. Thanks for the video. The longer I am around you elders from other tribes, the more I realize I don't know.

Professor Guide
2.1.2  seeder  1stwarrior  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @2.1.1    3 weeks ago

The reverse happens with many of us when we're around pure-hearted givers of their traditions/culture.

Thank you Perrie.

Raven Wing
Professor Principal
2.1.3  Raven Wing  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @2.1.1    3 weeks ago

Learning what I did as a young girl only piqued my desire to learn more, not only about my own Tribe, the Cherokee, but, Native American history as a whole. What is really fascinating about the various Tribes, is how similar they are, and yet, still different. They all have the same kind of culture, traditions and religious beliefs, and yet, somewhat different in how each Tribe practices them.

I'm really glad that Kavika posted the video about the history of where/when the Jingle Dance and Dress was first developed. It is so very sad that such a wonderfully inspiring dance came to be during such a devastating time for so many Tribes, in addition to the parts of their lives that they were already being deprived of, as well as having their children taken from them and placed it the deadly boarding schools.

Raven Wing
Professor Principal
2.2  Raven Wing  replied to  Kavika @2    3 weeks ago

That is an amazing video, and even more amazing story of who the Jingle Dance came to be.  

There were Monthly Mini POW-WOWS held at a local community pavilion near Pawhuska OK where we lived at the time, where members from the various surrounding Tribes came to participate in the dances. Along with the Cherokee, there were members from the Pawnee, Ponca and Osage Tribes. It was interesting to see their various dances and regalia. I really missed the dances when we moved from Pawhuska, and still do to this day. But, I still try to attend the POW WOWS of some of the nearby various Native American Tribes. Although, not as often as I'd like. 

Thank you so much for providing this great video. Brought back many memories.

Raven Wing
Professor Principal
3  Raven Wing    3 weeks ago

My favorite part of the POW WOWS is the dances. They are all very Spiritual in nature, and very impressive. But, one of my favorite dances is the Jingle Dance. It is a great Mother/Daughter dance as well. 

I really envy the women and young girl Jingle Dancers, as the dance itself really takes a lot of energy. I am of the Cherokee Tribe, and member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. I learned the Jingle Dance as a young girl and I can tell you it is very taxing, but, is also very enjoyable. I had to give up my Jingle Dancing when I fell from my horse when I was 14 y/o and injured my tail bone. The bouncing up and down that the dance required was just no longer tolerable.

But, I still enjoy watching the Jingle Dancers, and know what it takes to perform. 

Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
3.1  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Raven Wing @3    3 weeks ago

I love the pow-wows for the same reason. Watching them is deeply spiritual and impressive. My tribe does the Jingle dance as well, but I never realized who originated it or when it happened. 

When I was a girl, I danced a few times. I don't think people realize how heavy those dresses are! The dance is exhausting even for a spunky girl. 

Raven Wing
Professor Principal
3.1.1  Raven Wing  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @3.1    3 weeks ago
I don't think people realize how heavy those dresses are! The dance is exhausting even for a spunky girl. 

Very true. Those bells look they son't weigh much, but, add them all together on a dress is another story indeed. The dress I wore when I was learning the dance belonged to one of the Daughters of the lady who taught me the dance when she was my age. And the weight of the dress itself, as well as the amount of energy needed to carry throughout the dance, is truly very exhausting. And until I had practiced the dance for a good while, dancing on my toes most of the time, made my legs cramp up big time. It got less and less as I practiced more and more, but, in practice I could control the length of time the dance would last. But, when I would dance at the pavilion dances it was the singers who controlled how long the dance would last. Some times it seemed like forever! (grin) 

But, I really did enjoy the dance, it really made my heart soar like an Eagle, so was worth the leg cramps I might get. 

Professor Guide
4  seeder  1stwarrior    3 weeks ago

My favorites are the Fancy Dance, Jingle Dance and Grass Dance - wow - gets your blood flowing fer shure, fer shure.

Raven Wing
Professor Principal
4.1  Raven Wing  replied to  1stwarrior @4    3 weeks ago

Yes indeed, and that is one of the many reason why I like to create some of my artwork around those dances. It is fascinating to see the different regalia worn by the various dancers from the different Tribes when doing the same dances. Much of what I do is from memory of how they looked at the POW WOWs. 


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