What do our dancers wear?

The boys on our Dance Team are members of The Order of the Arrow and/or The Tribe of Mic-O-Say. Each of these are honor camping societies of the Boy Scouts of America and membership represents a Scout’s accomplishments and dedication to the ideals of Scouting. Not something beyond or outside of Scouting, these organizations support and enhance Scouting and both make extensive use of traditions drawn from Native American cultures.

One aspect of those cultures with which many modern Americans are familiar is the ceremonial dance. Our Dance Team strives to keep the spirit of traditional native dances alive among Americans of diverse origins and experiences.

A typical dancer’s regalia includes:

  • ·         a headband with feather(s)
  • ·         Apache leggings, usually made of fur
  • ·         bells worn around the knees
  •          a breech cloth, made of leather, fur, or cloth and ranging from plain to elaborately-decorated
  • ·         feathered arm bustles
  •        a back bustle; these are large arrays of feathers in a circular fan fashion, many of which put a peacock’s tail to shame!
  • ·         a choker made of beads in the Native American style
  • ·         a rattle
  • ·         moccasins
  • ·         solid-color gym shorts
  • ·         A ribbon shirt may also be worn.

Our boys spend many hours constructing their costumes using a combination of traditional and modern materials such that the final product is true to Native American dance traditions. The costumes may be in natural colors or bright, modern ones. Many include some components of each sort. 

Construction of the back bustle is among the most time-consuming    Fluffs and hackles come in an astounding variety of colors and members of our dance team seem to have employed all of these among their various costumes.  The long feathers are mounted to a ring and attached to a base to which a belt is affixed, allowing the bustle to be worn while dancing. The center of the back bustle is finished off by another feathered medallion known as a ‘spreader.’ When assembled on a dancer, the effect is spectacular.
portions of costume-building. The back bustle is an array of 24 to 50 or more long feathers (often, turkey wing feathers are used), 2-3 feet in diameter. The feathers are usually black or white and these are further enhanced with additional feathers known as ‘fluffs’ and ‘hackles’.

Arm bustles are similar in concept to the back bustle but are constructed of fluffs and hackles rather than wing feathers. Like the spreader, the arm bustles typically feature a center of decorative beadwork. Headbands also feature beadwork, done by the boys themselves. Beadwork, too, is painstaking and time consuming but when done well, adds an unmistakable, authentic, finished look to the costume.

Knee bells are mounted on leather straps that circle the leg just below the knee. Not cheap ‘jingle’ bells, these bells are usually fairly heavy-gauge nickel-plated steel or brass, in styles known as sheep bells (like a small cowbell) or ‘beehive bells (these are somewhat like the familiar ‘jingle’ bells you might see at Christmas time, only sturdier and with a more-impressive sound.)

Most dancers construct their own moccasins and these may be adorned with beadwork medallions or other options. Rattles are as varied as the materials available and the dancers’ imaginations can make them. Some are made wholly from plant products (e.g. gourds), while others include horns or shells.

Some dancers sport breast plates in the Native American style. These are made with long, slender beads known as ‘hairpipe’ (the origins of this term are obscure). Traditionally made from bone, horn, or sea shell, today, plastic provides an economical, light-weight alternative to those traditional hairpipe materials. Breastplates range from the comparatively ‘utilitarian’ to the rather ornate. Again, these are as varied as their creators. Chokers, which all the Dance Team Members wear, are similar in style to the breast plates but much smaller, of course, and worn around the neck.

The breechcloths worn by our dancers are more akin to aprons than to the skimpy garments seen in some old movies. These usually fully cover the width of the wearer and extend below the knee, with the back piece being longer than the front. The two pieces are suspended from a belt worn round the waist. Other than these scant specifications, the breechcloth is limited only by its maker’s vision. Leather is perhaps the most popular material for breechcloths, though some very realistic faux furs make having ones that appear to be fashioned from wolf’s skin a possibility.

When all assembled, a dancer’s costume is an impressive sight indeed; add in many others similarly attired, mix in beating drums and Native chants and the effect can be incredible. This is enhanced when the dancers are circling a real campfire in the great outdoors.

If you have not seen our Dance Team in action, be sure to make the time to attend a performance!


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