Crow Menís Traditional Dance

The dance outfit and style of Crow men is unique and distinct from any other tribe. It derives from the original Grass Dance that spread across the Northern Plains in the late 1500’s. The Crow received the rights to this dance from their relatives the Hidatsa in the fall of 1883. In turn, the Hidatsa purchased the dance from the Santee Sioux who refer to it as the Omaha Dance, since it is said that this dance originated with the Omaha.

When the dance was brought to the Crow they were instructed by the Hidatsa of the spiritual nature of what the Lakota and the Hidatsa refer to as the Crow Belt, what the Crow call a bustle or Tail Feathers. They also instructed the Crow about the spiritual aspects of the dance and the associated ownerships that are the ritual positions. The people being adopted into it provided many gifts to those who induct them. These ownerships have been passed on and are still practiced today.

The Crow call this dance the Hot Dance, because when they received it they were instructed not to eat as poor people. That is, to eat well, to eat fresh hot meat. The Crow therefore called it Baatawéelissuua, the Hot Dance.

Originally, dancers in the Hot Dance wore only moccasins, breechcloth and a roach. They decorated their bodies and faces with special paint designs that originated in spiritual visions. Today the distinctive Crow men’s outfit is made up of a matching beaded set (headband, armbands, gauntlets, belt and belt pouch with trailer, and mirror bag). The roach is large and lays flat with rooster feathers at the side of the head. The men also wear matching capes and breechcloths often made of iridescent fabrics. The bustle is a cluster of feathers with two upright spikes and decorated trailer. Bells are worn on the ankles with bells and a strap of bells hangs from the waist and is secured at the ankles (not tied at the knees). Face paint is personal and family owned, most having originated in the visions of ancestors.

The dance is a distinctive flat step with a subtle heel kick, the foot striking the ground on the off-beat. Some Crow men will step on the beat when in competition since this is how other tribes dance and they know that non-Crow judges will deduct points for stepping on the off-beat. Nonetheless, the unique outfit and style of Crow men is easily recognized at any pow-wow.

[Adapted from, Dale D. Old Horn, and Timothy P. McCleary, Apsáalooke Social and Family Structure. Crow Agency, MT: Little Big Horn College, 1995, and The Story of the Daytime Dance, Also known as the War Dance. Crow Agency, MT: Bilingual Materials Development Center, 1986]