Contrary to popular belief, this dance is not a traditional women’s style. It originated up North as a tourist and competition dance in the early 50’s and 60’s, filtering down to the South where it became more popular in the mid 70’s and 80’s. For years women had struggled to find their place in the dance arena fighting conformity among other things . This was a revolutionary breakthrough for the younger women who longed for a more stylistic approach to traditional dance. Unlike the earlier styles of the 1900’s which were more calm and gentle, the Fancy Shawl Dance was a splash of color, fringe and butterfly wings, each step so quick and light that the young woman looks as though she is literally dancing on air.
The Northern Fancy Shawl Dance is said to imitate that of a butterfly, so the most important part of this dress is the individual's color scheme. Once that has been determined, a light-weight fabric should be picked. This is to ensure that a dancer will not become over-heated during a dance. Unlike the buckskin and cloth dancers, the Northern lady does not wear knee boots but ankle moccasins and leggings that cover the legs. Moving up, a flared skirt is worn, which may be connected to a tank top or a separate blouse. Next a yoke is worn around the neck. This can be beaded although it is not necessary (Appliqué or paint designs are appropriate). A leather or cloth belt may also be worn to enhance the waist or keep the skirt in place. The main article in this clothing is the shawl. It should span the lady’s arms from finger tip to finger tip . It may be made of any tight double knit material with fringe or ribbon being hand tied every quarter of an inch at the seam of the shawl . The fringe should hang down anywhere from 14 to 18 inches depending on the height of the lady. A choker and neckerchief are optional but highly suggested.