At the Heard Museum Hoop Dancing Competition, Indigenous Beauty and Skill Were on Full Display

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The number of hoops a performer danced with, meanwhile, varied; it depends on style and preference. “It’s not how many hoops you have, it’s what you can do with it,” says Lisa Odjig, an Odawa-Ojibwe dancer who traveled in from Toronto. Traditionally, the hoops were made of red willow but are now made of plastic, wrapped in colored tape to match each performer’s regalia. Indeed, the stunning creations the dancers wore were just as impressive as the dancing itself: Odjig, for one, had been working on her hoop dress, beaded leggings, and moccasins since the spring. “A lot of us make our outfits really nice,” she says. “We take a lot of pride in our work, and it takes a lot of patience, care, and love.”

Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 

Tony Duncan says you can learn a whole dancer’s history by what they choose to wear on their back. “It’s a really unique dance that shows the individual qualities and uniqueness about each dancer,” he says. “Different dancers put in moves that are unique to their tribes. Their regalia represents their people.” For Tony and Violet Duncan, the annual Heard competition is also a family affair: The husband-wife duo compete every year along with their four children. “We’ve been teaching the kids hoop dancing just as soon as they could walk,” says Violet. “Every year, unfortunately, our kids are growing. That means new moccasins, new dresses, new beadwork.”

For the family, hoop dancing has been an art form passed down through the generations. “My dad was a hoop dancer. He taught me when I was five years old,” says Tony, while Violet was inspired by watching those in her community. “I learned when I was 12 years old,” she says. “No one in my family was a hoop dancer. Hoop dancing was a specialty dance that you saw very rarely at the powwows. I saw it for the very first time and I was in love with the dance.”

Despite the varied backstories and tribes, a common thread with all of this weekend’s performers was a sense of carrying on a time-honored tradition—one that continues to holds much significance, both to those performing and watching. “Dancing to the beat of the drum is good medicine,” says Odjig. “When we’re out there dancing, we’re not dancing for ourselves. We’re dancing and praying for everyone that’s watching. It’s important to keep this dance strong and alive and pass it on from generation to generation. It’s a part of our history.”

Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 
Photo: Courtesy of Heard Museum 



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