Having such a wonderful establishment like the Heard Museum so close has allowed me to gain an insight into cultures and customs from my own country that I never knew existed. One such tradition is Hoop Dancing, which is practiced by a wide variety of tribes all across North America. Once a year, they meet in Phoenix to host the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum, and this year, I was lucky enough to visit the event.
We ended up going on Sunday to see the end of Round One and parts of Round Two. They divide the dancers up by age and each dancer is given about seven minutes (five for the youth division) to perform their dance. The dance itself utilizes anywhere from six (the fewest I saw) to about two dozen or more hoops that are wide enough for the dancer to jump through. Each dance is a little different: They tend to jingle bells on their legs in rhythm with the accompanying drums and singers who sit off to the side. The dancers then begin to make shapes and symbols with their hoops, things like horses, a bow and arrow, wings, birds, snakes, buffalos, and much more. The energy and athleticism required to manipulate 20 hoops with both of your arms and legs is really a sight to behold:
We managed to see dances from Tony Duncan (2nd place), Dallas Arcand (3rd place), and Michael Goedel (6th place), and all were very impressive. Tony and Dallas really stuck out to me, as they seemed to both have maxed out on the number of hoops and the increasingly complex designs they made with their hoops really spoke to the level of mastery they have achieved with their art.
The Heard Museum began hosting the World Championships in 1992, and with each ticket you buy to the event, you get free admittance to the museum itself. It is filled with very detailed and expansive displays of the histories, cultures, and traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Southwest. It’s also home to the nation’s only Native American Veterans Memorial, which sits beautifully on the front lawn of the museum. I can’t recommend this museum enough; it is a must-see experience in Arizona, if not the entire USA.
The World Hoop Dancing Championships are every February (usually before or around Valentine’s Day), so if you’re in the area, I’d definitely recommend visiting! Absolutely worth the price of admittance.