Informant: So the story behind the Jingle Dress dance is about a girl who was really sick and her dad really wanted her to get better. And he had a vision or a dream, one of those two, and if you put a 100 shells on a dress, cause that’s how they used to make them, and if she dances for 21 days, or something like that, then she would be healed. And he did exactly what, uh, it told him to and she was healed. Not they call the jingle dress dress dance a healing dance. But, that’s just like one of the different stories of why it was like that. There are multiple stories and things like that. But that’s the one I heard.
Interviewer: What other variations are there?
Informant: Well, that’s the only one I know, but other people say there are more.
The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade. She is also an Old-Fashioned jingle dress dancer which originates from the Ojibwe people. It is referred to as a healing dance and can be seen at Native American powwows across the United States and Canada.
During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. I asked if she could describe for me the origin story behind the jingle dress dance.
One of the greatest gifts given to mankind was movement. Along with the ability to think, we are able to actively engage with our environment. As Albert Einstein said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” Dance has long been a part of human culture, and in many cases, a key component in ritual and prayer. The jingle dress dance emphasizes the healing properties that dance can have on the mind and body. There are many variations of this story, such goes folklore. The jingle dress dance comes from the Ojibwe people and can be seen at powwows across the United States and Canada.
The informant’s family had been a traditional Mexican family then they moved to America and expanded their culture here. His parents were born and raised in Mexico and learned many cultural forms of folklore with the informant who was born in America. He shared some of the folklore that he was told that stuck with him as he grew older and more wise and mature.
“Their was a woman in Mexico who wanted to go to this dance but her parents told her no you cant go, but she really wanted to go so she snuck out at night to go. So she went out to the dance and she was having a really good time. Some point while she was at the dance she met a guy and he seemed really cool, he was good looking, and well dressed. She started dancing with him and the party went on around them it was raging and exciting and a typical dance environment. The party progressed and my grandma described it to me that they were ballroom dancing. She looked around and noticed that there was no one there but her and the guy. She realized that they were just dancing alone and by this time it was late into the night and every one had been gone. She thought it was strange and looked back again and it was just her standing there and the guy was gone. She realized that she was just dancing by herself the whole time and she was alone the whole night. Frightened, she ran out of the dance place because she was so freaked out by what had happened and where the strange man came from. When she ran out, there was a black dog who chased her all the way to her house. The mom came to the door just as the girl was about to get there and said ““where the hell have you been its 2 o’clock in the morning!”” The girl was screaming crying that a dog was chasing her so the mom beat the dog with a broom, scratched it on the eye and the dog ran away. The next day in the town there was a weird creepy man. The creepy man had a patch on his eye and it was bruised up pretty badly. The story infers that the creepy man is supposed to be the Devil.”
The informant also stressed, “the message it is trying to get across is you better listen to your mother because you might end up dancing with the devil or doing the devil’s work.”
The informant said that this wasn’t necessarily meant to have any meaning behind it, but once his grandmother told him this he was put on the right path and was so freaked out that he would be home every night by ten o’clock, or he wouldn’t talk to any type of stranger. This story was creepy enough to the point where he wanted to listen to his parents when they said no.
I was able to collect folklore information from two Latina descendants. In this culture it seems common where the stories are created for the children to get them to get on the right track. The legends, myths, tales, and family tales all have a way to persuade the children to act the way the parents want them to ask whether that is a scare tactic or giving the children a saint to look up to. In the culture I’m use to, it is common where stories are told to direct children in the paths that their parents want but it is more common where the legends, myths, or tales are told to confuse the older generations. We talk about the existence of aliens, Bigfoot, vampires, werewolves, or any other strange tales that are told to our older generations. It is interesting how the folklore is geared to attract different age groups of people.
According to this informant, a foreign man now working in downtown L.A., the weekend of April 28 and 29, 2012 will host a centennial celebration at the Grand Canyon for all of the Native Americans to toast the anniversary of officially aquiring their reservation in the area. It is a celebration that has never been had, and according to the informant, their will be dancing, food, fire, and life the whole night/days-through.
The informant, even struggling to communicate fully in English, tried his very best to communicate the importance and excitement he held for his culture (although he is Chilean, he was originally from the U.S.).
On the midsummer solstice, or the Eve of St. John, fires are lit and maidens wear wreaths in their hair to celebrate the longest day of the year.
My informant first attended this festival with her family as a little girl, and mostly remembered the beautiful wreaths all of the girls would wear in their hair. She was also able to recall the many fires that were lit and that the men in attendance would jump across them. Also, those in attendance would stay out all day without sleeping to celebrate the length of the day and to appreciate the sunshine. At the end of the festival, all of the girls will throw their wreaths into the fires.
One of the most interesting aspects of this festival is that the different flowers worn in a girl’s wreath have different meanings. My informant remembers wearing white roses, which she remembers symbolized simplicity and purity. Perhaps the most significant flowers worn in the wreaths were lavender and myrtle, and they both represent love. If a girl wears one of these flowers in her wreath, throws her wreath into the fire and the burning wreath is thrown into the river and recovered by a single man, the girl would be said to be engaged to that man, by tradition. Symbolically, this union represents the birth of a new relationship, and the longer days are conducive to this birth.
This festival is uniquely Polish and has been celebrated for more than a thousand years. While mostly celebrative in the native Poland, my informant knows several Poles in other countries that also celebrate the Eve of St. John’s and she believes it’s, “because it’s romantic to look back on one’s culture.”