For Native American youth, the hoop dance is more than a competition

By Dena Khalafallah
Medill Reports

The World Championship Hoop Dance Contest is held annually at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Judges determine the top winners in five age divisions by evaluating dancers’ precision, timing, rhythm, showmanship, speed and creativity.

In Native American hoop dancing, the hoops represent different stages and forms of existence and how they’re interconnected.

“While they’re dancing, they’re praying for somebody at the same time,” said Brad Bearsheart, the father of two competitors, Nathaniel and Ella.

Ella was inspired to start hoop dancing because of a friend named Valentino who had a passion for hoop dancing, but unfortunately passed away. “I hoop dance for him and it feels like I’m alongside him as I dance. And he’s alongside me when I dance, and so we’re dancing together,” she said.

For these dancers, performing is less about the competition and more about connection.

Photo at top: Competitor Nathaniel Bearsheart (right) overlooks the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest. (Dena Khalafallah/MEDILL)