History of the Jingle Dress Dance

History of the Jingle Dress Dance

The Jingle Dress Dance originated with the Mille Lacs Band of the Ojibwe Tribe in the early 1900s and gained popularity during the 1920s in the Great Lakes region of the United States, specifically in Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as in Ontario, Canada.

jingle dress

The dress was first envisioned in a dream when a medicine man’s granddaughter fell ill. In the dream, his spirit guides instructed him to create a Jingle Dress for the girl, which would heal her if she danced in it.


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The dress was made, and the tribe gathered to watch her dance. Initially too weak to dance alone, the child was supported by her tribe but eventually was able to dance independently, her illness cured.

The dance has since become not only a healing ritual but also a symbol of pride.

What do Jingle Dresses look like?

Jingle Dresses, also known as Prayer Dresses, are considered to have healing properties for those who are unwell.

The dance derives its name from the rows of ziibaaska’iganan (metal cones) attached to the dress. Traditionally, these cones were crafted from rolled snuff can lids and hung closely together on the dress with ribbons, producing a melodic sound as the dancers moved. Today, these cones are often machine-made.

The dresses are available in a myriad of colors, including bright hues like yellow, blue, and red, and are accentuated with sparkles or neon-colored fabrics.

They are typically made from shiny or glittery materials and adorned with fringes, embroidery, beads, and other decorations.

Jingle Dresses generally feature three-quarter length to full-length sleeves and reach down to mid-calf or ankle length. They are fastened at the waist with a thick belt, often crafted from brown leather. The dancers wear ornate moccasins on their feet, embellished with details matching their dresses.

What are the steps for the Jingle Dance?

As the ziibaaska’iganan collide, they create a sound resembling falling rain, so dancers must be light on their feet, moving in sync with the drumbeat and stopping when the beat ends. Dancers keep their foot movements close to the ground, kicking their heels and bouncing on their toes in time with the music.

The dance is usually performed in a zigzag pattern, said to represent one’s life journey. Dancers often rest their hands on their hips and, if dancing with a neutral-colored feathered fan, raise it in the air while dancing to receive healing.

The traditional dance features gentle, low steps suitable for those who are ill, while modern competitive dancers push the boundaries to outperform their rivals. The evolution of the dance remains firmly rooted in its origin story.

What are the songs and music for the Jingle Dance?

The music accompanying this dance style is based on a strong drumbeat, with the metal cones producing a distinctive jingling sound as the women move. Jingle Dancers typically dance to Northern drum groups. Special songs for the Jingle Dance include Side Step and Crow Hop.

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