PHOENIX – 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 does it to pay 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, who is 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.
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.
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 Saturday. 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 11 a.m. and is expected to last a little over an hour.
“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.”
Just don’t call Sinquah champ.
“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.”
Nakota 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 age 30, died in July. He dedicated much of his time to teaching Native American youths how to hoop dance.
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 Nakota would have wanted her and the students to dance.
“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 Nakota’s skill, if his fans watch the youths closely, they’ll see it, Sonwai said.
“When they’re serious and they try their best, you can see Nakota through them,” she said. “So his legacy is carried on by the passion that these kids have. Nakota was a world champion hoop dancer, and he taught future world champions to come.”