A ring may be a circle without end, but what on earth are those Native American dancers going to do with all those hula hoops, I thought, as three men walked out onto the stage at the Mesa Amphitheater some years ago.
My disbelief suspended as my body felt the rhythm of the drums and my eyes beheld not a man dressed in brightly dyed leathers but an eagle soaring past saguaros though the purple and orange colors of an Arizona sunset. I saw a butterfly dance from honeysuckle to rose. I saw a horse run swift as a desert wind.
I was mesmerized by hoop dancing.
I had goose bumps.
You could have them too.
The 16th annual World Hoop Dancing Championships will be held at the Heard Museum in Phoenix on Feb. 4 and 5.
Approximately 50 dancers, representing 20 or so tribes from across the United States and Canada, will display their athleticism, speed and grace to an expected crowd of 10,000.
Spectators will see children a young as 2 performing in the tiny tot category -- all the way to people in their 70s and perhaps 80s performing in the senior category.
There are many stories regarding where hoop dancing originated, according to Dana McGuinness, senior manager of marketing communications for the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art.
"A lot of tribes follow the dance, but we say it most likely originated in Taos, New Mexico," she said.
Today's hoops are made out of plastic by the individual dancers. Traditionally, they were made from reed, cane or leather.
Each dancer expresses his or her distinct cultural traditions as the sounds of Northern and Southern Plains drums beat in the background.
The hoops' wide variety of meanings are all significant and unique to the performer. A circle may represent a person's life from beginning to end, and the shapes created with the hoops are symbolic of the diversity of life.
According to McGuinness all the dancers are brilliant, but three to watch are:
- Lisa Odjid from the Ojibwa Tribe in Canada is returning to the competition this year. Odjid was the first female ever to win the World Hoop Dancing Championship in 2000.
- Three time world champion Alex Wells will be competing from the Salish Tribe in Alberta, Canada.
- Local dancer Tony Duncan, who is a six time world champion in the teen category, will be competing as an adult.
McGuinness did not care to speculate on what the most difficult shape might be.
"They make globes; they do birds; they do butterflies," she said. "Some dancers use two hoops; some go all the way up to 50. It all depends on the shape that they are trying to create.
"I've seen horses, eagles and insects. I've seen dancers make something called the ‘ladder of life' that is leading up to the world."
Those who come should be prepared to sit in the grass on blankets in front or low lawn chairs in the back. Sunscreen and hats are advisable. There will be water, food and soda available to purchase.
Don't forget a camera for taking pictures.
The Heard Museum is located at 2301 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85004. General Admission Prices: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors (65+), $5 for students with a valid student ID, $3 for children (6-12), free for children under 6, Heard Museum members and Native Americans. For more information, call 602-252-8848.