Some say the modern day Pow Wow competition dance known as the Ladies Fancy Shawl Dance has its roots in a ceremonial dance called the Butterfly Dance. Here is a Cherokee account of how that dance came to be.
I’ve been told the Shoshone have a similar story but I heard this version from Cherokee dancers in North Carolina. These dancers told me the Ladies Fancy Shawl Dance is a representation of the following Butterfly Legend:
Many, many years ago when the Earth was still quite new, there was a beautiful butterfly who lost her mate in battle. To show her grief, she took off her beautiful wings and wrapped herself in a drab cocoon. In her sadness, she could not eat and she could not sleep and her relatives kept coming to her lodge to see if she was okay.
Of course she wasn’t, but she didn’t want to be a burden on her people so she packed up her wings and her medicine bundle and took off on a long journey. She wandered about for many days and months, until finally she had gone all around the world. (To this day, butterflies go on long journeys, but that is another story.)
On her journey she kept her eyes downcast and stepped on each stone she came to as she crossed fields and creeks and streams. Finally, one day as she was looking down, she happened to notice the stone beneath her feet, and it was so beautiful that it healed her sorrow.
She then cast aside her cocoon, shook the dust from her wings, and donned them once more. She was so happy she began to dance to give thanks for another chance to begin her life anew. Then she went home and told The People about her long journey and how it had healed her.
To this day,The People dance this dance as an expression of renewal, and to give thanks for new seasons, new life, and new beginnings.
The shawl in the Fancy Shawl Dance represents the butterfly’s wings, the fancy steps and twirls represent the butterfly’s style of flight. This is another reason you will sometimes hear the Fancy Shawl Competition Dance referred to as “the butterfly dance.”