Micco Sampson never doubted his son would learn the art of hoop dancing. A renowned hoop dancer in the Twin Cities, Sampson has started to pass on the tradition he strives to keep alive to his 4-year-old son, Nokose. “I had hoops in his crib when he was born,” Sampson said.
Before he was able to show his son the art of hoop dancing, Sampson had to learn it himself.
Growing up in the Los Angeles area, Sampson and his family were one of the only Native American families in his community. Standing up for himself and his culture was something he had to do often.
“Part of standing up for ourselves was understanding and knowing who we were,” Sampson said.
Hoop dancing allowed him to do just that.
Hoop dancing is a form of Native American dance that incorporates the use of hoops. The modern variation of the dance started roughly 100 years ago. However, the hoop is an object that has been used for thousands of years and it plays an important part in everyday life. “We say that this hoop represents our world and everything in it,” Sampson said.
Incorporating western scientific teachings, Sampson explained the hoop’s greater significance.
“A circle is defined as a sheet with infinite size and infinite angles. That means it keeps on going,” Sampson said. “So, each time you slice that circle, you’ll find more and more sides. Hence, our explanation of we all have a part in the circle.”
Being able to teach valuable lessons through the art of hoop dancing is one of the reasons why Sampson feels it is important to carry on the tradition.
“Underlying within those dances are those lessons and those teachings of where they come from,” Sampson said.
One way Sampson is able to teach through his dancing is by repeating the phrase “heal it” instead of the more common “killed it” after each dance.
“In these moments right after we do something good, especially with our art, it should be something healing, rather than killing,” Sampson said.
Sampson enjoys teaching these lessons because he knows during much of history his people were prohibited from doing so. After the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, Native Americans were finally given the right to practice their culture.
Today, Sampson carries on the tradition as a hoop dancing instructor at the American Indian Center in Minneapolis. The hoop dancing classes serve as a fun way for people of all ages to learn about Native American culture and engage in physical activity. Exercise like this is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes rates are 2.2 times higher in the Native American community. Sampson’s classes help address these issues with engaging physical activity.
“When you’re doing it, you realize that you’re getting a workout. Then it’s very empowering for participants,” Sampson said.
Deanna StandingCloud is a Minneapolis parent who knows Sampson’s classes are truly fun and empowering. Her son, Nigozis, takes hoop dancing classes with Micco at the American Indian Center. The classes not only offer her son a chance to engage in physical activity, but also an opportunity to connect with Native American culture.
“I think it’s important for the Native community to have access to the hoop dancing practice,” said StandingCloud. “Within this one hoop dancing lesson, there’s all these disciplines that can go into it.”
Parents like StandingCloud know of the importance of things like hoop dancing. From the lessons it teaches to the physical activity it requires, hoop dancing can empower communities like those of Native Americans in Minneapolis.
Through Micco Sampson’s work, the tradition of hoop dancing is being kept alive. Passing it on has become his work, and pass it on he will.