Traditional Navajo hoop dancing requires a great deal of concentration, dexterity and coordination.
The movements involved in the different hoop dances are also symbolic of the cycles of nature and life, and a key way to better appreciate Navajo culture, said Candy Horrocks.
Horrocks is the founder of the Tribe of Young Feathers, an after school program at Lakeview Elementary that teaches hoop dancing to any interested student grades K-12. The group was founded by Horrocks, who also works as the school counselor at Lakeview Elementary.
Horrocks has to jump through quite a few hoops herself coordinating practices, instructors, parent and school schedules and arranging performance venues.
“There are times when it gets overwhelming and I feel like crying,” said Horrocks. “But when I see the kids come out all dressed up in their regalia and watch them performing the motions so well, then I remember that it’s all worth it.”
Horrocks learned to hoop dance when she was a child when her parents, along with some other parents in town, started the program.
“Hoop dancing is an important part of our culture and they didn’t want it to get lost,” she said.
The program continued for several years but faded away as the original kids in the class grew up and moved away.
But Horrocks revived the program in 2002 when her daughter, Sierra, was in kindgergarten.
“It’s an important part of Navajo culture,” she said. “I’m really happy I learned how to do it when I was young, and I want my own children to have that experience, too.”
Horrocks said in the beginning she tried to find someone who could teach her daughter, but couldn’t find anyone, so she decided to teach her herself.
“And since I was teaching my kids, I might as well teach some others too,” she said.
“I now feel the same way my parents felt. Hoop dancing is an important tradition, and it’s worth preserving for another generation. And I hope it will continue into the future.”
Horrocks said it has been a very enjoyable, fulfilling endeavor.
“The dances I learned as a girl I’m now teaching,” she said. “Hoop dancing has so much meaning in it. The movements we do are symbolic of the cycles of life and the cycles of nature.”
Tribe of Young Feathers is taught as an after school program. Most of Horrocks’ students are Navajo kids, but she has a few white kids as well. The program is open to anyone who wants to learn it, she said.
The hoop dancing classes begin in September with the beginning of the school year. Beginner, medium and advanced level classes are available.
When Horrocks began the program it was opened to kindergarten to second grade-aged kids, but due to its growing popularity this year the program was opened to students K-12.
In the last three years, the program has grown so popular that Horrocks has hired Joseph Secody and Tomas Hunt to help her teach the new students.
Autumn is the busiest season for the Tribe of Young Feathers. Their largest performance occurs in November at the District Culture Night as part of Native American Month. Last year, 190 hoop dancers performed for the event.
The Tribe of Young Feathers does about 12 performances at various events in the course of the school year. Eight members of the group went to the World Hoop Dancing Championships in Phoenix last January. Her own daughter, Sierra, 9 years old, took fifth place out of 25 competitors in the youth group.
Michael “Dusty” and Marla Brown have four sons — Liam, Noah, Ammon and Ruger. The three oldest belong to the Tribe of Young Feathers. The youngest, 4-year-old Ruger, is their proud hoop carrier.
“They love it!” said Marla.
Marla is Navajo and her husband is white.
The Browns are an Army family and have moved all over. They first saw hoop dancing while stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was performed by an LDS ambassador group from BYU called the BYU Living Legends.
“Watching them really inspired them to explore that part of their heritage,” said Marla. After the family moved back to Page and learned about the Tribe of Young Feathers, they leapt at the chance to join.
Not only has hoop dancing been a great way for her sons to learn more about their Navajo heritage and culture, learning the complex body and hoop movements — and performing them in public — has done great things for their confidence and self-esteem, said Marla.
“Liam was a little shy about it at first,” said Marla, “but performing in front of big crowds has really given him a self-esteem boost.”
The parents are responsible for making their kid’s hoop dancing regalia as well as their own hoops. The hoops today are often made of plastic but traditional hoops are constructed from willow.
Horrocks says several of her students use willow hoops.
That level of family involvement over a shared goal is a great way for the families to bond, said Horrocks.
The Tribe of Young Feathers is coming to the end of their performance season but they’ll begin new classes next September.
If you want to sign your kid up to be a member of the Tribe of Young Feathers, contact Candy Horrocks at Lakeview Elementary.