Native American Hoop Dancing
If you follow my Facebook page, you know that I regularly attend Pow wows. And I have to say that one of the most spectacular dancing I have seen is Native American hoop dancing. I mean it’s almost like watching an acrobat in a circus but one wearing beautiful regalia and telling a story. I don’t say this in a derogatory fashion but rather with admiration. So today, I want to talk about the story of the Native American hoop dance. And let’s get something straight right away: native hoop dancing is NOT like hula hoop dancing.
Where does the hoop dance come from?
Well there are different versions of how the hoop dance was created. It is centuries old for sure and it is a story telling dance (more on that below). As for its origins, some will say that the Creator gave wooden hoops to a dying man from the Plains, who wanted a gift to leave behind. Another origin comes from the Anishnaabe culture. A little boy did not have the typical male interests as he preferred to be alone and watch animals. Therefore he was shun by his father and earned the name Pukawiss “the unwanted”. However, the little boy continued to study animals and their movement, such as eagles, bears, or snakes. In no time he was copying their movement, spinning like an eagle in flight for example. He then went on to create the Hoop dance and taught it to others to teach them about the ways of the animals. Simply put, it was a hit and everyone wanted in!
So what does the Hoop dance represent and what does it involve?
The hoop dance is done with as many hoops as 40 and is performed by a single dancer. Yes you read that right. 40 hoops!! Used by one person! The hoops are used dynamically and in a static manner (like the picture above in which you can see spheres created by the dancer). The dance typically begins with one hoop though. If you think of a hoop, well it is a circle and we now know that the circle is a very significant shape within the native culture. It represents the sacred cycle of life, the never ending cycle. The Medicine wheel, the four stages of life. As well as the interconnectedness of us all, the fact that we all are related, part of a circle. The hoops represent all the elements that come together, the elements being connected. Slowly, hoops are added representing different elements, including animals, other humans or the life elements such as water or air or even life events such as marriage. The hoops and movements of the dancer are evocative of animals movements. Indeed, the formations made with hoops can represent wings or a tail for example.
Hoop dancing today
Hoop dancing has evolved over time and has incorporated techniques or even accompanying music that can be non traditional. The dance is now very competitive (and danced with more rapid movements theses days it seems) but for some nations is considered to be a healing dance. Hoop dancers do not take classes or learn watching videos. They learn typically from a more experienced dancer. Not all dancers dance alike and not all of them will share the same vision of the dance. Different styles are then out there.
And dancers do not buy their hoops. You should not be buying dancing hoops in a store. Making native american dancing hoops is an art and each hoop is made by hand. Different colors are used either to match the dancer’s attire or due to a specific significance. One thing is for sure, learning how to make hoops is an honor that one should cherish.
In conclusion, hoop dancing is a form of story telling, it is an expression of a culture, a connection to the past and an embodiment of the concept of All my relations. It is a passing on of traditions from past generations to future generations. It is an art form that will outlive all of us. I leave you with a video of world championship hoop dancer, Brian Hammill. The quality could be better but the dancing is spectacular. You can actually see the animals in his dancing. He also explains his vision of hoop dancing. Definitively worth watching! Wow!!