Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Hoop Dance and the Lightning Boy Foundation

The hoop dance is a traditional Native American dance that the medicine men used in healing ceremonies. A number of tribes lay claim to its origin and suffice it to say that it has been an important part of the Native American culture for centuries. In the 1930’s, Tony White Cloud, from the Jemez Pueblo, is credited with being the founder of the modern hoop dance which we see today. He began using multiple hoops in a stylized version of the dance.

In Native culture the hoop has sacred symbolism representing the circle of life. Traditionally the hoop was made with willow and bois d’arc and that is still used but more often replaced with reed and plastic hose or pvc decorated with tape and paint. Pvc is preferred for durability when travelling.

The dance is done to drum accompaniment . Here is Steve LaRance Co-Founder of the Lightning Boy Foundation at the Library of Congress in 2016 explaining the drum beat.

The Lightning Boy Foundation is a Nonprofit organization that offers hoop dance instruction to tribe or pueblo registered youth. Its mission is “nurturing and building confidence and integrity through culture and Artistic expression”. Students as young as 2 years old are eligible. At the moment their youngest is 3 and the oldest is 17. Several graduates of the program (college age) have returned as instructors. For more information, please visit:

The personal histories that lead to this effort are described on the Foundation website: “The Lighting Boy Foundation was established in honor of Valentino 'Tzigiwhaeno' Rivera, “a boy who couldn't stop dancing”. Valentino participated in traditional pueblo dances, traditional hoop dancing, hip hop and break dancing. He was the son of George Rivera (former Governor of Pojoaque Pueblo) and Felicia Rosacker-Rivera. Sadly at the age of 8 Valentino was in a car accident and subsequently died. The following year, 2017, the Foundation was named in his honor, 'Tzigiwhaeno' means 'lightning' in his Tewa language. It was co-founded by his mother, Felicia Rosacker-Rivera, and mentor/spokesman/artist Steve LaRance (Hopi, Assiniboine) with Nakotah LaRance, Steve’s son, as master instructor. Sad to say, in 2020 Nakotah died in a mountain climbing accident at the age of 30. He was not only a nine-time winner at the World Championship of Hoop Dance, he also performed internationally with the Cirque du Soleil.” Here is a clip of one of Nakotah’s dances from 2016. It is 6 minutes so if you do not have time now save it til later. It is well worth watching him working with 5 hoops for the finale.

Last weekend we watched the final rounds of a two-day championship competition in honor of Nakotah organized by the Foundation and hosted by the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. There were 4 divisions: Tiny Tots Division, 2- 5 year old’s who all get prizes to encourage them to continue their good work, Youth Division 6-12, Teen Division and Collegiate division. In announcing the event, Steve LaRance made mention of hoop dancers as old as 82 though they were not participating in the competition! The judges rated the dancers on Precision, Timing and Rhythm, Showmanship, Creativity and Originality and Speed.

Here are just 18 seconds of Foundation’s young students on the Santa Fe Plaza a couple of years ago.

Needless, to say it is so great to see the superhuman efforts that little ones go to. At every performance there are always small children behind the on lookers practicing and tiny tots trying to pick up a hoop the way the big kids do. Sometimes they look uncertain of what to do with the hoop but they are clearly determined to learn!

Though I understand that this all belongs to a culture which is not mine, I so wish that every child could be introduced to this beautiful dance and learn the discipline that this training can give. It would be invaluable for a lifetime.

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