Hoop dancing is more than just an activity. It is a way of life.
Micco Sampson, a professional hoop dancer, smiled at his 4-year-old son at the University of St. Thomas Anderson Student Center while he played with his own set of hoops, ones that were specifically made for him.
“The proportion ratios are actually very specific to the human body, to the individual doing it,” said Sampson. “If you didn’t have the right size hoops, it would look like you’re wearing oversized clothes, or maybe really tight clothes. It’s very specific to that.”
Hoop dancing is an indigenous dance tradition. At first glance, one might think a hoop is just a toy, something to play with, but it is more than that, Sampson said. In hoop dancing, your hoop is a representation of your story, your world and how you connect with it. In Native American culture, hoop dancing is a way of storytelling and healing.
Sampson teaches hoop dancing with his brother, at the Minneapolis American Indian Center. Students are taught the basics of hoop dancing and the rest is up to them.
“Part of that teaching is that it’s up to you what you want to do,” Sampson said. “I provide just the simple instrument and the know-how. The introduction essentially is just giving you a hoop and giving you the space to be or feel comfortable and play with it.”
This is true for Deanna StandingCloud and her son, Nigozis, who attends Sampson’s lessons.
As a parent, StandingCloud wanted her son to be more active and try something new. When she discovered hoop dancing lessons were offered, Standing Cloud seized the opportunity. After picking up her son from school he was playing on his iPad in the back seat; Standing Cloud decided to take a detour to the Minneapolis American Indian Center.
“I knew that there was something in there,” said Standing Cloud. “I happened to be there on a Tuesday, and that’s when Micco was there. So I was like, ‘Oh, let’s just go do this, because my son has tons of energy, and he needs to put it somewhere.’”
Sampson’s hoop dancing classes are fun to enjoy, Standing Cloud said. He is a patient and uplifting teacher, she said, and his encouragement creates a comfortable environment.
Intense hoop dance workouts are also offered to those up to the challenge. Hoop dancing is a great activity to improve your balance, flexibility and aerobic ability. Students of all different levels and ages can have fun and learn about their culture. By the end of class, they are drenched in sweat and smiling.
“When you’re doing it, you realize that you’re getting a workout. And then it’s very empowering for participants, especially with kids, too,” Standing Cloud said. “It’s important for the Native community to have access to the hoop dancing practice.”
Native Americans have the highest rate of diabetes and heart disease in the country, according to the American Diabetes Association. Having the hoop dancing classes, Sampson said, is an important way to include physical activity in a weekly schedule.
“This is a fun tool, literally a fun way to be able to entice people back to have not only that type of activity, but also the cultural aspects of it. The teachings behind it very well are incorporated and can be taught from any individuals,” Sampson said.
At its roots, the purpose of hoop dancing is about connecting and telling your story, Sampson said. A hoop is a circle, a shape that is universally seen no matter what the culture you come from or what language you speak. It contains an infinite amount of sides and angles.
In a demonstration at St. Thomas, Sampson showed how hoops are symbols of our world. In one hand, he held a hoop that represented his own world.
“This is my perfect perspective. I’m only one person, so I only see the world from one angle,” said Sampson as he twisted his wrist until the hoop was on its side. “’Till I run into another person,” he continued, gripping a second hoop in his right hand, “and we share stories. We intersect our worlds.”
Moving his hands closer together, the hoops intersected between each other, physically representing how two worlds can collide.
“You can really delve into each other’s world entirely, but also even explore it to another dynamic. We start to see more dimensions, not only of how your world is connected to theirs, but also indirectly how this was connected to others,” said Sampson, taking a third hoop and connecting it, adding another dimension. “These worlds …start forming our world.”
Hoop dancing is more than an activity. It is an educational tool used to understand the past, the environment, the people around you and, more personally, their significance in your own world. Sampson carries this philosophy in his vision as he takes this knowledge and shares it in his classes.
Watch ThreeSixty student Blessing Kasongoma report on this story for ThreeSixty’s TV Broadcast Camp: