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Published on February 16, 2024
Phoenix Heard Museum Becomes a Cultural Hub as Global Hoop Dancers Aim for World Champion TitleSource: Heard Museum

The Heard Museum is once again the epicenter for the world's best Native American hoop dancers, who have descended upon Phoenix, Arizona to vie for the title of World Champion. The highly anticipated World Championship Hoop Dance Contest, a staple event for over three decades at this venue, kicked off with a promise of showcasing rich cultural heritages through dynamic storytelling and technical prowess. A plains Cree and Taino competitor from Canada, Beany John, who snagged second place in 2022, is determined to win this year. "I'm so excited to be back this year and I've just been working really really hard on just dancing and performing," John told 12News.

More than a hundred contestants from around the globe are competing, according to the contest's organizer Mike Webb. "The hoop dancers compete all year in different competitions but end up here in February to be titled the world champion," Webb said in a statement obtained by 12News. The significance of hoop dance resonates with the participants as more than just a sport. It's a healing dance rooted in storytelling and culture, as John affirmed, "You have the song which is the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Then you have the different stories that are happening, and every single hoop dancer has a different story."

The event is not just competition; it's a space for cultural exchange and celebration for all ages. Audiences can expect to witness a blend of skill, artistry, and creativity from dancers in multiple categories. The competition, which is expected to run through February 17 and 18, promises to offer a rich display of individual cultures and shared experiences. Tickets range from $10 to $25, and the doors open at 8:30 a.m., offering the public a chance to connect with this unique form of artistic expression.

A poignant story within this year's contest involves ShanDien Sonwai LaRance, a dancer who is paying tribute to her late brother, Nakotah LaRance, a nine-time world hoop dance champion. After competing and performing on the global stage with Cirque du Soleil and at numerous hoop dance competitions, Sonwai aims to honor her brother's legacy at the event. “My brother inspired so many new tricks, so much speed, art and athleticism to hoop dancing after he returned from Cirque du Soleil. He was a huge inspiration to the hoop dance community, especially to the youth he taught,” Sonwai reflected in an interview with AZCentral. The Heard competition is revered as the largest of its kind in North America, drawing over 80 competitors and nearly 5,000 spectators each year.