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history of
Hoop dance


Native Media Network: “The hoop is symbolic of ”the never-ending circle of life.” It has no beginning and no end.

Many tribal groups across North America used the hoop in traditional healing ceremonies, and the hoop’s significance enhances the embodiment of healing ceremonies. Tribal healers and holy men have long regarded the hoop as sacred and many have used it in their ceremonies. Visions and ailments were seen through some of these hoops by tribal holy men and women.

Many tribes lay claim to the Hoop Dance. It wasn’t until the 1930s that a young man named Tony White Cloud, Jemez Pueblo, played an instrumental role in its evolution and began using multiple hoops in a stylized version as ”founder of the modern Hoop Dance.”

He used five hoops made of willow wood bent to form a circle. These hoops were approximately 24 inches in diameter, enough to get his small frame through. Through this new art form, he invented hoop formations to symbolize traditional designs and teachings that were a part of his culture and traditional pueblo upbringing. The hoop designs that White Cloud invented are still the foundation of hoop formations and routines in modern Hoop dancing. American Indians saw his modern multiple Hoop dances in his performances in the 1930s in the American Indian Exposition in Anadarko, Okla., the Gallup Indian Ceremonial in New Mexico and Chicago’s Railroad Fair, and adapted it in their own Indian dance shows for the public.

White Cloud made a cameo performance of his Hoop Dance to the American public in the 1942 movie ”Valley of the Sun,” starring Lucille Ball. During World War II, White Cloud traveled with Gene Autry across America and Europe promoting war bonds to fund the war effort by performing the Hoop Dance. He later danced in Autry’s movie, ”Apache Country,” in 1952.

The Hoop Dance soon became a crowd-pleaser in American Indian and First Nations dance performances as the modern multi-hoop Hoop Dance allowed dancers to weave stories of how all life is connected with changes and transitions. The dance itself began to tell visual stories through the creation of ever-changing discernable symbols.”

Copyright Reprint from Indian Country News: Denis W. Zotigh

Dennis Zotigh, Kiowa, Santee Dakota and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, is a contributing writer for Indian Country Today. He is a pow wow historian, dancer, singer, director of The Great American Indian Dance Company, co-founder of the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest and cultural events coordinator for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

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