The Women’s Fancy Shawl Dance is a relatively new addition to the pow wow dance competitions. Until fairly recently, women performed their fancy dancing in traditional garb.
Some accounts say in the early 1900s, shawls replaced the blankets and buffalo robes young girls traditionally wore in public. In the 30s and 40s, young women would show off the shawls they made by doing some fancy footwork, and the Fancy Shawl dance was born.
The Cherokee say it is a reenactment of the Legend of the Butterfly Dance. The Crow have another explanation of how the women’s fancy dance competiton got started.
The Fancy Shawl Dance outfit consists of a decorative knee-length cloth dress, beaded moccasins with matching leggings, a fancy shawl, and various pieces of jewelry.
The dance itself is similar to the men’s Fancy Dance, and the style is moving toward more movement, especially spinning. Footwork is the chief element of the dance. Footwork is more intricate and fast paced. High steps are a part of the motion of the dancer as she twirls and bounces, spreading her shawl like wings. The dancer uses her shawl and shoulders to create fluid motions while keeping her footwork in harmony with the fast paced rhythm of the drum in this style of dancing.
Fancy Shawl dancers must follow the changing beat of the drum and stop when the music does with both feet on the ground.
Because this is an energetic dance that requires substantial physical exertion, it is not commonly performed by elderly women. This competition is generally thought of as a competition for the young women, and is usually divided into just three categories: women, junior girls, and little girls (10 and under).