Watching the Native American Hoop Dance is an experience that sticks with you. Maybe a Native American group visited your school or you witnessed the dance at a cultural event. Whatever the case, those moments make a lasting impression. You may not remember the faces or names of the dancers, but the feelings and the power of the dance remain.
If you’ve missed the pleasure of absorbing this experience, now is the time!
Sponsored by the Heard Museum, the annual Hoop Dance Contest is virtual this year due to COVID, thus expanding the audience and widening the participant pool. Instead of dancers gathering in Phoenix as they have in the past, this year over 80 dancers submitted video recordings. All are competing for up to $2,500 prize money in each division. Videos will be available at www.youtube.com/heardmuseum/videos starting Saturday, February 6th. Voting for the new Viewer’s Choice award will be available on the Heard Museum YouTube channel until Wednesday, February 10th. The winners will be announced at the online event on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021.
I recently had the privilege of talking to Patrick Willie, Navajo/Diné, who is
participating in this year’s event. He explains that the hoop dance originated with the Taos-Pueblo tribe in New Mexico as a healing dance. Over the years, the hoop dance has become a storytelling dance. Because it’s so fun to watch, sometimes people need to be reminded that “it shares our history; it shares our teachings.”
Patrick grew up in Orem, Utah and learned how to hoop dance when he was eight years old. He feels that the hoop dance changed his life because learning it helped him find his cultural identity and encouraged him to ask his parents a lot more questions about their indigenous heritage. As he learned more, he found himself asking, “How would my ancestors, my elders, respond to this situation?” This connection to his heritage has helped him to become a more optimistic, open-minded person because the dance has taught him that “we all belong to the same world, so we should treat each other that way.”
Patrick shares his gratitude for living in a place where hoop dancing is
well known—hoop dancing is popular in only a few other locales in the United States. He credits the Title VI American Indian education program and also Living Legends at BYU for giving it exposure. Even though he performs the dance at schools and competitions, Patrick explains that it is still a healing dance in many ways: “As Native Americans, we are taught that whatever feelings we put into what we are about to do, those feelings will be shared with others. For example, if we are thinking good thoughts and making beadwork, then whoever that beadwork goes to will have good thoughts or whoever sees you dancing wearing that beadwork will have good thoughts.” He says that before he dances he reminds himself to get in a state of mind to have those good thoughts, “because I know that those feelings will be shared with whoever is watching me dance and it’s reciprocated as well, so I definitely feel that healing feeling.”
That healing feeling is shared by all the dancers participating and transcends competition. Overall this event feels like a reunion because the people who compete bond over dance and culture. Patrick appreciates that everyone has so many different stories and that each performer incorporates their life into their dance. He likes that “you’re able to see all sorts of different creativity and all sorts of new moves you never would have thought of, because we all have different life experiences.” Ultimately, “everyone is extremely respectful and…is always encouraging one another. Everyone will help you—like if you happen to forget your bells or something or need tape, everyone’s always there to help and it’s neat. It’s like a community.”
As Patrick mentioned, hoop dancing is popular along the Wasatch Front: several other local hoop dancers who will join him in the competition and in celebrating the dance. Below we list a few of these dancers and links to their dances. We hope you enjoy watching their submissions. Visit the Heard Museum’s YouTube channel and vote for your favorites! www.youtube.com/heardmuseum
Yakama/Tulalip/Lumbee, from Vineyard, Utah. Electrical
engineering student at BYU, married to Celeste Contreras with a one-year-old son, Luca. Loves basketball, singing, playing guitar, fixing anything, music, movies and sharing his Native culture through hoop dance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOQaPFr9k0k&t=8s
Naakaii Tsosie, Navajo/Diné: graduating from BYU in April with a degree in chemical engineering; husband to Tyra; loves teaching people how to dance fancy and hoop.
Navajo/Diné, Title VI dance teacher, Native American YouTuber, cyclist, cinephile, and loves sharing his culture with youth.
Yakama/Tulalip from Saratoga Springs, Utah. Taught secondary Math for 30 years before retiring. Married to Joan Bullard: they have 4 children and 14 grandchildren. Terry is 65 years old, been hoop dancing for the past 50 years, and loves Coca-Cola memorabilia!
Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho, Fort Peck Sioux and Assiniboine. She attends Oak Canyon Jr. High and loves playing competitive volleyball, dancing women’s fancy and hoop, enjoys listening to music, drawing, beading, and reading.
Kayden Brighton Denny
Navajo/Diné: student at Highland High School, SLC. Kayden enjoys playing guitar and piano and loves to dance hip hop. Plays volleyball, basketball, and softball for the Highland Rams.
Mary Grace Johnson is a BYU junionr majoring in English teaching. If she doesn’t have her nose in a book, she is probably out in the mountains or on a run. Mary Grace is an intern for the Native American Curriculum Initiative and is enjoying learning and meeting so many kind new friends.