This weekend marks the 23rd Annual World Championship Hoop Dancing Contest held at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. This year the museum will present the first-ever “Hoop Dance Legacy Award” to Jones Benally, Diné, on Sunday, February 10.
According to press release from the Heard Museum, Benally has an incredibly impressive and honorable hoop dancing career – he has been a hoop dancer for more than 75 years, traveling the world as a cultural ambassador sharing culture and song. His dancing has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and in Arizona Highways magazine. Benally has also performed for Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. He has appeared in many films and documentaries and continues to dance at ceremonies to heal the sick. Benally, who is in his 90's, is a traditional practitioner and works at the Indian Health Services Clinic in Winslow, Arizona.
"I was raised in the traditional way,” Benally says. “At that time my grandfather, uncle, mother and father were only traditional and never spoke English. That's where I went to school. I learned from my relatives.”
When Benally was a student at the Sherman Indian Institute in Riverside, California, he was asked to dance for shows all over the world. At first, his grandfather told him to only perform these dances at ceremonies. After a meeting between his grandfathers, he was given authority to share these dances with other people to show "what we still carry on," to participate on behalf of the Navajo Nation and to share his culture, Benally says. His grandfather asked him to participate for his nation. Benally has taught countless people the Hoop Dance.
"We are all brothers and sisters on this Earth,” Benally says. He urges Hoop Dancers to respect the cultural ways they are carrying on. “This is our culture, our backbone, it is very important to carry this on and teach our grandchildren. This is from the bottom of our hearts,” he adds. “It is good that a lot of young people learn the Hoop Dance for showing but the backbone of this dance is from our ceremony to release a bad spirit from the body. We have carried this on in this country before hospitals, since the beginning of time.
“The ones that created human people gave this dance to us to help us get well. When one learns the ceremony then that person learns the entire meaning and all the details and history of the Hoop Dance. That is why we must respect this dance."
Festivities for the 23rd Annual World Championship Hoop Dancing Contest will begin at 9:30 a.m. each day with the grand entry. Dancers will compete from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. throughout the weekend. On Sunday, Heard Museum officials will present Jones Benally with his award at 1:30 p.m. and the final Adult round of dancing will begin shortly afterward at 2 p.m.
Admission is $18 for adults, $13.50 for elders for 65 years of age, $12 for Heard Museum members and Native Americans, and $7.50 for children between 4-12 years of age. The admission fee will allow attendees entrance into the event and the museum.
For more information about the this year's World Championship Hoop Dancing Contest, please call 602.252.8848 or visit the Heard Museum’s website.