Dalton Walker 
Indian Country Today

Hoop dancing has rarely ever been about competition for Scott Sixkiller Sinquah.

Sure, Sinquah is a world champion hoop dancer and one of the best to ever do it. But he doesn’t hoop dance to win. He dances to give homage to traditional healing aspects of the dancing the style is known for. He also dances for his fellow dancers and that friendly connection that’s been missing since the pandemic hit.

Sinquah, Gila River, Hopi, Choctaw and Cherokee, will miss that part most next month when the popular Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest shifts from a celebrated in-person event in Phoenix to the virtual stage.

(Previous: Hoop dancer faces the ‘unthinkable’ then family and friends step up)

In an ordinary world, Sinquah would be defending his 2020 world champion title in front of hundreds. But little is ordinary these days, and the museum decided this year to hold the event online for safety reasons. The museum’s annual art market in March will also be virtual.

Just don’t call Sinquah champ.

“Shoot, it’s a big honor to be dancing with all these other dancers, but to be put at the top spot is kind of funny because I don’t see other dancers as competition. I see it as a brotherhood,” Sinquah said. “To me, it’s funny, because to see the other dancers, and they’re like, ‘Hey, champ.’ I don’t see myself as the champ. I just love to dance.”

The competition’s shift in format hasn’t deterred participants.

Sinquah is one of 89 registered dancers set to take part in the prerecorded online event scheduled for Feb. 13. Of those, 82 are in the competitive age divisions, an increase from last year’s record of 80, according to the museum.

The show starts at 1 p.m. EST and is expected to last a little over an hour. To watch, and for updates, click here.

(Related: ‘Like’ your favorite hoop dancer)

The event routinely attracts dancers from across the country and Canada. Up for grabs is $11,000 in prize money, which includes a $2,500 prize for the top adult dancer category. Not up for grabs is Sinquah’s title. The museum decided against crowning a new world champion this year due to the unusual competition circumstances.

“It’s good that they’re still having the contest, even though it’s virtual,” said Sinquah, who has danced in the competition for years. “It’s good because there's people that never had the chance to travel all the way to Arizona. They're going to actually be able to get their hoop dance out there, and that's a plus side to the virtual event.”

Taylee Dresser, 30th annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest, Phoenix, Feb. 8-9, 2020. (Photo by Dalton Walker, Indian Country Today)

Nakotah LaRance, a famous hoop dancer and three-time world champion, will be missed at this year’s event. LaRance, a longtime dance instructor, even at the age of 30, passed away in July. He dedicated much of his time to teaching Native youth how to hoop dance.

(Related: Nakotah LaRance: ‘Fearless’ performer, caring coach)

LaRance’s students from the Lightning Boy Foundation in New Mexico are set to compete in the virtual event. The group has traveled all across the world to perform and regularly competes at the Phoenix event. LaRance’s sister, Sonwai, who learned how to dance from her brother, also teaches the students.

Sonwai LaRance said training for this year’s event has been challenging for her and the students because of the pandemic. Sonwai wasn’t sure if she wanted to compete this year with the sudden loss of her brother on her mind, but said Nakotah would have wanted her and the students to dance.

Hoop dancer Nakotah LaRance at the "Hip Hop/Electronic: Indigenous Music & Dance of the Grand Performances" in Los Angeles on Aug. 10, 2018. (Photo by Anderson Gould Jr.)

“It’s just magnificent to see the transition these kids make from not hoop dancing into hoop dancing and to see the people that they become,” Sonwai LaRance said. “It means so much because you see these kids turn from shy little buds into bright, big, beautiful blooming flowers.”

The “flowers” also have some of Nakotah’s skill, if his fans watch the youth closely, they’ll see it, Sonwai said.

“When they're serious and they try their best, you can see Nakotah through them,” she said. “So his legacy is carried on by the passion that these kids have. Nakotah was a world champion hoop dancer, and he taught future world champions to come.”

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.

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