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Menominee Fancy Dance Bustle

Fancy dance back bustle made of dyed turkey feathers, Neopit, Wisconsin on the Menominee Reservation, c. 1982.
(Museum object # 1982.48.8)

For centuries, Indians across North America have held ceremonies celebrating warfare, successful hunts and harvests, marriages, births, animals, and nature. These American Indian gatherings, known as powwows, are a time- honored tradition and cultural celebration. Dancing factors prominently in these celebrations, and usually features colorful regalia such as this men's back bustle from the Menominee Reservation near Neopit, Wisconsin.

Worn on the dancer's back, the bustle is most often associated with Men's Fancy dance, whose dancers wear outfits that are bright, colorful, and flashy. Generally two bustles are worn, one on the upper back, and one on the lower back. The beauty of the regalia is appreciated through the fast and aerobic movements that characterize this style. However, the bustle is also worn in Men's Traditional dance. Traditional dancers wear outfits generally comprised of natural materials that often incorporate hawk and eagle feathers, along with more historical pieces. Traditional dance is generally more precise and graceful than the more energetic Fancy Dance.

Measuring 36 inches in diameter, this back bustle features magenta and blue turkey feathers. The center rosette was constructed using black electrical tape. The use of both traditional and modern materials exemplifies the joining of the past and the present in much contemporary Indian art; Native peoples embrace the future while retaining and honoring the traditions of the past

While no one knows when powwows exactly began, they have long been an important part of Indian heritage and cultural identity. They are a time for singing, dancing, feasting, gambling, athletic competitions, honoring relatives, and visiting with family and friends. Today's powwows are an extension of these ancient and historical practices, but they also serve to unite Native peoples from across the nation in order to celebrate, honor, and preserve American Indian heritage.

The word "powwow" derives from the Algonquian word "pauau" or "pau wau" which referred to a gathering of medicine men and spiritual leaders for a curing ceremony. Early European settlers mispronounced the word as "powwow," and attributed it to mean any large gathering of Indian people. Since that time, most Indian people have accepted the European pronunciation and definition.

Powwows take place within circuits. These circuits are similar to leagues in athletic sports. Eight main circuits cover the main geographical regions of the United States: Coastal, Plateau, Great Basin, Mountain, Plains, Woodland, Eastern, Southern, and Southwestern. Held throughout the year in celebration of various occasions, some powwows honor returning or retiring veterans or a person well known for community service. Others commemorate the deceased, or a particular event, such as the founding of a reservation, or to raise money for various tribal organizations, families, or individuals. Most common, however, are the large commercial powwows that celebrate American Indian culture and the gathering of family and friends that often include dance competitions in which the winner may take home a large cash prize.

The opening ceremony, or Grand Entry, marks the official beginning of the powwow. Elders, veterans, and dancers gather at the dance arbor entry awaiting their queue to start the procession. When the selected drum group begins to play, the procession begins. The honor guard carrying the eagle staffs enters first, followed by honored guests and male elders. The dancers then enter according to gender, age, and dance styles. Men's Traditional dancers generally enter first, followed by men's Grass dancers, and Fancy dancers. After the men have entered the dance arena, female elders enter, followed by women's Traditional dancers, Jingle Dress dancers, and Fancy Shawl dancers. Children dancers usually enter with the women according to dance style.

The completion of the Grand Entry ceremonies signals to all participants and guests that other activities may now resume or commence. Although powwows involve multiple activities such as parades, gambling, concessions, athletic events, feasts, dance contests, drum contests, social dances, giveaways, and fundraising activities, dance is the major attraction. Dance competitions frequently offer significant prize money to the top dancers. Participants spend countless hours practicing and perfecting their dance styles. Dancers also take great pride in the design and construction of their dance regalia, and allot valuable time to sewing, beading, and personalizing their dance outfits. Dance outfits often incorporate pieces that have been passed from one generation to another, acknowledging and honoring ties to the past.

[Sources: Roberts, Chris. Powwow County (American and World Geographic Publishing, 1992);; "Wacipi Powwow" website by Twin Cities Public Television online at;;]


Posted on November 01, 2007

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