Grass Dancing

By: Bailey Williams and Donna Moseley

Grass dancing originated in tribes in the Northern Plains that are warrior societies. These included the Omaha, Pawnee, Ponca, Dakota, and Winnebago tribes. They saw the grass as a way of healing and danced on it to bless it before being used to heal. This was started after a myth was told about a young handicapped boy's legs being healed from grass dancing.

The costumes consist of a shirt and pants, with beaded or otherwise decorated belt and side tabs, armbands, cuffs, and front and back aprons, with matched headband and moccasins, if available. Ribbons and fringe are the only mobile parts of his outfit, other than the roach feather. Bells are worn around the ankle. Mostly plain hard-sole or woodland soft-sole moccasins were worn by the performers.

The performance starts in a large circle created by the dancers. When the leader starts singing, everybody just starts dancing and moving to any random spot that they can fit in to. The movement consists of a series of twirls, kicks, and stomping motions while letting your upper body release and go wherever the movement takes you. It was a pre-ceremonial dance performed on the grass so it would heal. As time progressed, the dance was performed to settle a new area and create and appropriate tribal meeting area. The grass was trampled to ensure visibility.

It is performed to original tribal music which sounds like

  • Medium beat rhythm giving the dancer time to add in their own flair
  • A strong drum beat supports the dancing
  • Male leads start at a high falsetto with female voices adding in stronger and strong
  • Each keep in the same vocal range as the others
  • The lead male sets the timing and verses of the chants you

A distinct feature of the music within the grass dance are the bells worn around the ankle of the dance adding and faster half time beat of the drums.

Northern Plains tribes still come together for Powwows and Grass Dancing Competitions. They perform it for show at competitions, in honor of the ancestors that came before them, and to remain true to their heritage while informing other cultures about their heritage.