The Fancy Shawl dance celebrates new life, as a butterfly seems to dance its way into existence from its cocoon. The footwork and movements convey a butterfly in flight, while the colorful costumes or regalia accent the beauty of the expression. Dancers use carefully crafted shawls to represent butterfly wings. There's no particular step sequence; each dancer choreographs her own sequence of steps consisting of intricate footwork with spins and jumps combined with graceful shawl movements.
The Native American tribes from the Northern regions developed the Fancy Shawl dance in the early 1950s. It was first referred to as the Graceful Shawl dance because the fluidity of the steps appeared slow and graceful. The term fancy is now used because the footwork evolved into much fancier footwork that's more intricate and fast paced. It's typically performed by younger Native American women because of the amount of speed and briskness necessary. The dance is one of the newest dances of powwows.
Despite an ornate shawl, costume pieces for the Fancy Shawl dance consist of leggings, moccasins, hairpieces and jewelry. Each costume consists of a color scheme that's either influenced by the tribe or has personal significance to the dancer. The entire regalia centers on the shawl. Bordering the shawl is long colorful fringe or ribbon that hangs down from 14 to 18 inches, depending on the dancers' height. The dancer wears the shawl around her shoulders while holding onto the edges. The shawl spans from the fingertips of one hand to the fingertips of the other.
The movement of the shawl is the highlight of the dance. Dancers extend the shawl as if it was a butterfly's wings, imitating either its flight or the emergence of the butterfly from its cocoon. The dancer must demonstrate grace, endurance and agility in her movement. Because butterflies are creatures in flight, the dancer must be light on her feet, dancing in sync with the drum beat. While her feet move with the drum beat, the shawl should sway and swirl about her body, creating a juxtaposition against the quick jutting steps of the feet.
The footwork of the fancy shawl dance involves intricate patterns of steps that are choreographed by the dancer to show off her individual expression. The footwork should appear light and graceful. Practiced dancers will incorporate multiple spins and turns, keeping in time with the drums. One foot is required to hit the floor with each drum beat. If she is in midair, she lands on the beat. With the song's last drumbeat, the dancer lands with both feet on the ground.
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