Hoop Dreams

If the Native American sport of hoop dancing demands an analogy, the Hula-Hoop is not it.

"It's almost like a house of cards," offers Rebecca Stenholm of the Heard Museum, "but that's not it, either."

In fact, the dance combines the speed and agility of professional hockey with the elegance of figure skating; the dexterity of juggling with a cultural tradition that few sports can lay claim to. These attributes will be showcased at the 11th Annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest, happening Saturday and Sunday at the Heard Museum. If your Hula-Hoop attempts ended in failure, prepare to be impressed.

Hoop dancing is a modern, intertribal sport thought to have originated with the Taos Pueblo people. Although hoop dances have long been part of Indian healing ceremonies, dancer Brian Hammill, who plans to compete in the upcoming championships, stresses that "it is not a ceremonial dance in this format; it is an exhibition."

Dancers perform to music with any number of hoops; some, like Hammill, use as many as 50. Picking them up with their feet, they "weave" them onto their body to create different shapes: eagles, flowers, spheres and more. Short routines are judged according to a standard athletic scale that considers precision, showmanship, timing, speed and creativity.

"Each dancer has a different story," Hammill says. Dancers are eligible for awards in five divisions, including senior and "tiny tot" categories. (Last year's youngest performer was just 18 months old, according to Stenholm.) Lisa Odjig of Ontario, the first woman to win the championship, is expected to return this year to defend her title. Also expected back is four-time teen champion Tony Duncan of Mesa.

"All the dancers you see are going to be great dancers," Stenholm says, "even the youngest ones."

At their age, I had enough trouble just walking.

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Elan Head
Contact: Elan Head