Although the Jingle Dress is the most exotic of the Southern women’s dances, it is nothing in comparison to the legend in which it was created. The idea of the dress was first encountered in the late 1800’s, and although there are many legends, one seems to stand out in my mind the most. As the story goes, there once was an elder in a tribe who was very ill and was thought to die soon. As he lay sick in his bed half- asleep, half-awake, he received a vision. In it, a young woman came to him and showed him a dress unlike any he had ever seen. She said that it was a medicine dress that would make him whole again. With that, the girl taught him what to use and how to make the dress. Once that was done, the young woman taught the old man the songs that would make the medicine come alive in the dress . Teach this dance to your granddaughters, the girl said, and you again will be well. When the sun rose the next morning, the old man called his three young granddaughters to him and told them of the vision he had had in the night. When they heard the entire story, they quickly ran to gather all of the things they would need to create the healing dress. As soon as the ceremony had been completed, a miracle occurred as the grandfather’s fever broke. It is said that he lived to guide the family for many more years as a result of the healing powers of the visionary dress. Although the dress is no longer used as medicine for the body, it is clear to me that by watching this beautiful dance it has become transformed into medicine for the soul.
The Jingle Dress is in many ways a cross between the Northern style and the Southern Ladies' Cloth. Although the ankle moccasins and leggings are designed in a very similar fashion to the Northern Shawl style, the dress itself resembles the style of the Southern Cloth. The most noticeable part of the dress is not the dress itself but the hundreds of cone shaped Copenhagen snuff lids that adorn the dress in various shapes and patterns. The only way to describe the way they sound when they chime together is rain on a tin roof. Jewelry and hand articles are like those of a Northern Shawl Dancer.