Inside the 22nd Annual World Hoop Dancing Championship at the Heard Museum


The World Championship Hoop Dance competition held last weekend in Phoenix, Arizona mixed history and tradition with contemporary creativity. The two-day event, the 22nd annual exhibition of artistry, athleticism and cultural tradition, drew an estimated 7,000 spectators to the Heard Museum who added their own hoops and hollers in cheering on their favorite dancers, between 50 and 60 contestants from the United States and Canada.

The parity of performance was so close that in at least three cases, judges ended up with scores that required tiebreaking dance-offs to ultimately determine a winner.

And when the last drum beat sounded and the final moccasin step ended, a two-time former champion, Dallas Arcand, Cree, of Calgary, Alberta Canada had reclaimed his title as number one in the Adult Division (ages 18-39), walking away with the top point total that earned him a check for $3,500.

Less than 20 points separated his comeback effort from the attempt by last years champion, Tony Duncan, San Carlos Apache/Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara, to hold on to the crown for another year. In settling for third place honors, Duncan earned $2,000. Another Arizona dancer, Lane Jensen, Navajo/Pima/Maricopa, from Dilkon won second place worth $2,500 while Riverton, Wyomings’ Jasmine Rae Pickner-Bell, Crow Creek Dakota, ended up fourth; Navajo Lowery Began of Jonesborough, Tennessee was fifth and Michael Goedel, Lumbee/Yakima/Tulalip, of Rancho Cucamonga, California placed sixth.

Indicating an ever higher level of professionalism was the fact that only 33 points separated the sixth position from the first. “In recent years, as hoop dancers continue to refine and grow their routines, point scores have climbed and point spreads for the adult division have continued to grow smaller,” said Heard Museum Communications Manager Debra Utacia Krol, Xolon Salinan Tribe.

Each dancer in their respective age divisions is judged in five categories. “We look for timing/rhythm and how the dancers keep in time with the drum,” said judge Victor Bob, Navajo, from Gallup, New Mexico. “”We’re also looking at precision, speed, creativity and showmanship. There are a lot of little things going on at the same time and one thing we look for is to make sure they go through all their hoops. With so much to remember and a time limit to stay within, they sometimes don’t get them all. We also keep an eye on the hoop forms they make during the dance to ensure they sit there and don’t fall apart. Things don’t have to be absolutely perfect as long as dancers finish their dance, nothing gets dropped, and the forms don’t fall apart before the end of the song.”

According to Bob and fellow judge Jocy Bird, Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara/Dakota, from Brookings, South Dakota: “Not only are we looking for the obvious, but the intangibles too like how well the crowd reacts to a performers moves.”

The three additional judges from Oklahoma, Colorado and North Carolina say the number of hoops put into play isn’t a deciding factor. “Two years ago the world champion only used five hoops. It isn’t the number used, but what they do with them that counts,” said Bob.

With Eric Manuelito, Navajo, from Tohatchi, New Mexico as Arena Director and Dennis Bowen, Sr. a Tuba City, Arizona Seneca as Master of Ceremonies, the Mandaree Singers from North Dakota provided Northern Drum with Southern Drum supplied by Bad Medicine of Carnegie, Oklahoma.

Tiny Tot Hoop Dancer Kailayne Jensen

Tiny Tot Hoop Dancer Kailayne Jensen

Both days of competition began with a Grand Entry of Contestants that ranged from Tiny Tot performers up to age 5 --- including the youngest, 1-year-old Tizoc Lopez from Arizona’s Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community --- through a youth division; teen division; adult division, and senior division.

And while dance competition was intense in the performance arena, competitors became friends when not in face-to-face point-seeking action, like the case of an all-volunteer family potluck for the native community on the eve of Day One.

“Native families come long distances at their own expense including lodging, travel and meals with no financial help at all,” said Ken Duncan, Sr., San Carlos Apache/Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara, originator of Yellow Bird Indian Dancers and father of five of this years dancers. “Wife Doreen and I wanted to honor our son Tony, the 2011 World Champion Adult Hoop Dancer as well as our other sons and grandchildren who would participate by sponsoring a dinner for visiting dancers and their families.”

Once the word went out asking for food donations and monetary contributions, the meal for 200 snowballed. “It seemed like everyone wanted to help do something --- cook something, set up tables, offer to serve or clean up. The San Carlos Apache Tribe donated funds for food. Phoenix Indian Center anteed up supplies. No matter how far away First Nation peoples come from, once you know they’re native, there’s an instant closeness and a philosophical way of life like you’ve always known that person and are willing to help.”

“We were so pleased with the turnout and the fact so many people contributed to the common good,” said Doreen Duncan. “There was lots of homemade goods, traditional foods, and impromptu entertainment including someone who performed a hula dance at a hoop dancing contest --- we called it a hula hoop.”

In addition to the adult division winners, Brian Hammill, Ho Chunk, of New River, Arizona held onto his 40 years and older Senior Division Title (and the $2,000 check that came with it) with Moontee Sinquah, Hopi/Tewa, from Glendale, Arizona and Terry Goedel, Yakima/Tulalip, Rancho Cucamonga, California forced to undergo a dance-off to resolve an initial tiebreaker. Sinquah ultimately took second place and $1,500 while Goedel pocketed third place honors and a check for $1,000.

Prize money of $200 was split among all contests in the Tiny Tot category of 5 years and under. Tiana Schocko, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa, Peshawbestown, Michigan was grand prize winner in the 6-to-12-year-old Youth Division, followed by Nedallas Hammill, Navajo/Ho chunk, from Arizona’s New River Community and Jacob Cabarrubia, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Manistee, Michigan. Teen Division winners (ages 13-17) included 1st place honors to Tyrese Jensen, Navajo/Pima/Maricopa, Dilkon, Arizona; 2nd place to Talon Ree Duncan, San Carlos Apache/Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara, from Mesa, Arizona, and 3rd place winner Vanessa Schocko, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa, Peshawbestown, Michigan.

For those who like to plan ahead, the 23rd annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest is already scheduled for February 9-10, 2012. Visit for details.