Dance has always been central to Native American cultures and there are many different forms, from traditional to contemporary. All tribes had their own types of dancing -- some are specific to a tribe and some are intertribal, meaning all tribes are represented in a particular dance form. Hoop dancing is one form of dance that is not specific to any particular tribe.
The modern powwow emerged out of a tradition of Plains Indians ceremonial dancing in which different tribes shared elements of their own song and dance styles, and eventually became known as "intertribal" dancing. One common element was the drum as the center of song and dance. As Native Americans succumbed to the pressure of assimilation into white American culture and relocated away from the reservations into cities in the 20th century, powwows became a way for native people to gather and express culture through the brilliant displays of tribal dress and dance.
Hoop dancing finds its roots in modern powwow culture. Due to its high level of difficulty, it's a dance not many perform and is always a crowd-pleaser. A hoop dancer must have a good grounding in fancy dancing -- a modern powwow dance style featuring fast, intricate foot and body motions. Historically, it was a men's dance but women are increasingly adopting it.The hoops are similar to hula hoops which the dancer incorporates into the dance by making intricate "designs." A good dancer can use as many as 50 hoops in a routine.
In many Native American cultures, a circle -- also known as the "sacred hoop" -- is symbolic of many aspects of life. The hoops are metaphors for the connection of all things in life, and legend tells of the Creator giving a dying man hoops to create things. The more the man created, the more hoops he would be given. A hoop dancer will form the shape of an eagle, a butterfly, a turtle, a flower or other symbol to remind people of the sanctity and connectedness of life's creations.
It is not uncommon to see hoop dancing at powwows as solo or group exhibition performances. Sometimes, at larger competition powwows, there will be a category for hoop dancing, but the world championship hoop dance competition is held at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Adults and children alike compete for more than $30,000 in prize money and the prestigious title of World Champion Hoop Dancer. People travel from as far away as Canada and Europe to attend.
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