While many Americans observe Thanksgiving by gathering around a table and stuffing themselves to a gluttonous delight, others satisfy their appetite by indulging in rich cultural delights like folkloric dancing.
While square dance is a popular dance style representing early American colonists, thus often associated with Thanksgiving, the American Indian hoop dance highlights the perspective of the first Americans in a charming, colorful way.
Even locally celebrated international festivities such as Oktoberfest has its own dance (ie, the Chicken dance). Thus, it should be expected that a centuries old holiday like Thanksgiving would also have it’s own special dance as well. And it is only fitting that such a holiday centered around different cultural groups represents each of those cultures fairly and accurately, accounting for each of their roles in history.
Nakotah LaRance champion hoop dancer
Teachers like Stacy Pepper Schwartz of the Leaping Legs Creative Movement Programs, go beyond just teaching native American dance. Educators like herself also use the holiday as an opportunity to include more lessons on Native American history, changing the narrative that Native Americans are more than caricatures in the Thanksgiving story and cowboy movies. The lessons also increase awareness that Indigenous Americans have deep, shared roots in American history, beyond what is commonly known. Educators see it as a great opportunity to help fill in some gaps left vacant in American historical accounts.
“The hoop dance is consistently the most requested dance throughout the United States. The hoops symbolize a sacred part of the Native American life. It represents the circle of life with no beginning and no ending. Watch as the dancer begins with on hoop and keeps adding and weaving the hoops into formations that represent our journey through life. Each added hoop represents another thread in the web of life.” www.nativespirit.com/hoop_dance.htm
Anyone can partake by taking some hula hoops and starting off by moving the hoops over ones head and down tones body; then attempting to move the hoops while walking, jumping, spinning around and dancing. Most children eagerly call out the different shapes and figures that the hoops and dancer create, while participating educators take it a step further in asking the kids questions about what they’re seeing. Suggestions include exploring stories games images with the children engaging with; asking them things like to describe what they’re seeing, movements they remember from the presentation, what are the meanings and symbolism the dance, what animals they can create themselves with their own buddies what instruments did you hear the music, what comparisons they can draw between this dance and others mainstream dances such as ballet, tap, jazz and so on?
One of the key intentions is to introduce different cultures to students in the classroom, especially the cultures of the first people to ever set foot on American soil. Educator Schwartz stresses what’s important is to bring authentic understanding of concepts letting go of any stereotypes or clichés. She stresses using a variety of tools from painting to music, visual aids and more to help broaden the students’ minds, experiences and knowledge on Using a new culturist influence Arts expand one’s tools.
As you watch these dances, take a moment to ponder what shapes and patterns you see. Do you catch some of the more commonly identified shapes like the eagle, flower, or butterfly? Or did you spot some entirely new shapes altogether?
Hoop dancing is a fun way to preserve and learn about lesser known aspects of American history while partaking in a beautiful, cultural art form.