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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Hoop Dance Champ Wows Crowd In Flagstaff
by Katherine Locke - Navajo-Hopi Observer
Nakota LaRance performs for enthusiastic audience at 83rd annual Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture
Two-time world hoop dance champion Nakota LaRance performs at the 83rd annual Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture.
(photo by Ryan Williams
- Navajo-Hopi Observer)

FLAGSTAFF, AZ - Nakotah LaRance wowed the crowd at the 83rd annual Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture July 2 treating the crowd to a dazzling performance of his world hoop dance champion skills at the Museum of Northern Arizona.

Nakotah started out as a fancy dancer, which is a flashy dance usually performed by young men to attract visitors to powwows. Before his dance, 8-year-old fancy dancer Lowell Chimerica, from Moenkopi, danced. Charlie Chimerica sang for Nakotah.

Steve LaRance, Nakotah's father, said the hoop dance used to be a healing ceremony. If someone was out of balance, a medicine man would dance to bring that person back into balance.

He said, according to a study done by the Heard Museum, that the hoop dance originated in the pueblos of the Southwest and Hopi is part of the pueblos.

Nakotah's dance includes symbols of the eagle, a horse, a crocodile or water serpent and the ladder of life, representing an infant, a child and an adult.

In 2015, Nakotah won the top prize at the 25th annual World Championship Hoop Dance competition beating out seven time champion Derrick Suwaima Davis. He repeated the win in 2016 becoming a two-time world champion.

The dancers tell stories with hoops that created intricate symbols of animals and symbols that hold great meaning for Native tribes.

Hoop dancing is a long-standing tradition in many Native cultures. It can involve the use of more than 50 hoops. The continuous circle of the hoops symbolizes the circle of life and the continuous change of the seasons.

Each participant is judged on precision, timing and rhythm, showmanship and speed.

LaRance has been hoop dancing since he was four years old at powwows he attended during the summer with his aunt and cousins.

During one of those summers, he traveled with Davis, who was also a fancy dancer at the time where Nakotah would watch him perform. Davis made Nakotah his first set of hoops and taught him the basic designs that are seen in the hoop dance.

LaRance's father, Steve, was also a big influence in creating opportunities for LaRance to dance by getting him booked to perform at conferences, powwows and art festivals. He also took LaRance to an audition in Flagstaff one weekend for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in 2004, an appearance that opened more opportunities for LaRance.

After many years, LaRance still finds inspiration in the dance because it brings people together in friendship and mutual understanding about the circle of life and how each person has a relationship with nature.

He said after the world champion competition that he gets boosted up when the audience enjoys the beat of the drum, singing and the dance with the designs he creates.

LaRance said it is a challenge to compete against all the great, and champion, hoop dancers that come from all over the United States and Canada. In his first years competing, he had problems with dropping his hoops and not creating designs as he had intended. But the biggest thing to overcome has been to compete against Davis.

He said that to compete against his master teacher has always been tough and Davis will not let up for anyone.

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