PHOENIX (AP) — The hoop dance has rarely been a competition for Scott Sixkiller Sinquah.
Of course, Sinquah is a world champion hoop dancer and one of the best to ever do it. But he’s not hoop dancing to win. He does this to pay homage to the traditional healing aspects of the dance for which the style is known. He also dances for his fellow dancers and that friendly connection he’s been missing since the pandemic hit.
Sinquah, who is Gila River, Hopi, Choctaw and Cherokee, will miss this part the most next month when the popular Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest moves from a famous in-person event in Phoenix to the virtual stage.
In an ordinary world, Sinquah would defend his 2020 World Championship title in front of hundreds. But little is ordinary these days, and the museum decided this year to hold the event online for security reasons. The museum’s annual art market in March will also be virtual.
The change in competition format did not discourage participants.
Sinquah is one of 89 registered dancers who will participate in the pre-registered online event scheduled for February 13. Of those, 82 are in the competitive age categories, an increase from last year’s record 80, according to the museum.
The show starts at 1 p.m. EST and is expected to last just over an hour.
The event regularly attracts dancers from across the United States and Canada. Up for grabs is a cash prize of $11,000, including a $2,500 prize for the best adult dancer category. Sinquah’s title is not up for grabs. The museum decided not to crown a new world champion this year due to the unusual circumstances of the competition.
“It’s good that they’re still holding the competition, even though it’s virtual,” said Sinquah, who has danced in the competition for years. “It’s good because there are people who have never had the chance to travel to Arizona. They’re actually going to be able to have their hoop dance, and that’s a plus for the virtual event.
Don’t call Sinquah champion.
“I don’t see the other dancers as a competition; I see it as a brotherhood,” Sinquah said. “For me, it’s funny, because seeing the other dancers, and they’re like, ‘Hey, champ.’ I don’t consider myself the champion, I just like to dance.
Famous hoop dancer and three-time world champion Nakota LaRance will be missing from this year’s event. LaRance, a longtime dance teacher even at the age of 30, died in July. He devoted much of his time to teaching Aboriginal youth the hoop dance.
LaRance students from the Lightning Boy Foundation in New Mexico are expected to participate in the virtual event. The group has traveled all over the world to perform and regularly perform at the Phoenix event. LaRance’s sister, Sonwai, who learned to dance with her brother, also teaches the students.
Sonwai LaRance said training for this year’s event has been difficult for her and the students due to the pandemic. Sonwai wasn’t sure she wanted to compete this year with the sudden loss of her brother on her mind, but said Nakota would have liked her and the students to dance.
“It’s just beautiful to see the transition these kids make from hoop dancing to hoop dancing and to see the people they become,” Sonwai LaRance said. “It means so much because you see these children grow from shy little buds to big, beautiful blooming flowers.”
The “flowers” also have some of Nakota’s talent, if his fans look closely at the youngsters, they will see it, Sonwai said.
“When they’re serious and doing 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.