MESA, Arizona – Tyrese Jensen may still be in high school, but the 18-year-old whose family hails from Dilkon, Arizona, is a world champion. So is his 9-year-old sister, Kailayne. But, the day after their awards for the Heard Museum Hoop Dance World Championship were presented, was a Monday, and these particular world champs had to be back at school—not to mention, finish their homework.
The Navajo/Maricopa duo are the first brother and sister to win world hoop dance titles in the same competition, the 27th Annual Heard Museum Hoop Dance World Championship Contest, held Feb. 11 and 12 in Phoenix. Kailayne is the new youth division champion, while on his first try in the adult division Tyrese won the world championship.
Tyrese and Kailayne come from a family bursting with creativity. Dad Lane Jensen, Navajo/Maricopa, started his dance career at age 9. He’s the founder of Yellow House Indian Dancers and the proprietor of Yellow House Bags, a fashion accessory line. He also does beadwork. Mom LaDawn Yazzie, Navajo, has worked as a culinarian and a college preceptor. She’s currently finishing preparations to begin a master’s degree program at Arizona State University. And, LaDawn is also a bead artist who creates the children’ regalia. Lane also dances pow wow, while LaDawn manages them all on the road and at home. The family normally splits their time between their Mesa, Arizona, home during the school year, and traveling the powwow trail in the summer. They also spend time back in Dilkon when their schedules permit.
The Jensen children grew up in the hoop and pow wow dance world. Tyrese, a senior at ASU Preparatory Academy, started dancing at age 6, during the 2005 Hoop Dance Championship. “We were walking down Central Avenue going to the Heard’s Hoop Dance,” says Lane. “Tyrese saw them and said, ‘Dad, I want to do that!’ That’s where our adventure began.”
“The first year I just danced,” Tyrese says.
However, two years later, at age 8, he won his first championship in the youth division. That first win was followed by six more youth and teen titles and now, World Hoop Dance Champion. Ironically, Lane, who has trained Tyrese, finishes consistently as a finalist but has yet to win the world championship. However, the elder Jensen’s pride in his children’s accomplishments is apparent as he points out Tyrese’s and Kailayne’s awards adorning their living room.
Kailayne, a third-grader at ASU Preparatory Academy, began dancing while still in diapers, beginning with the Tiny Tot division at the Hoop Dance Contest. She’s also the youngest member of the Yellow House Indian Dancers. Kailayne won second place in the 2015 and 2016 youth category.
After Tyrese won his first world championship title, people took note of the talent emerging from the small, shy boy. His then-diminutive self shined as the face of Arizona Indian tribal communities on the cover of Arizona Highways Magazine. Tyrese has also been featured in an episode A World of Wonders, a Canadian TV children’ show, and in a video produced for Raising Arizona children Magazine
Although they practice year-round for the Hoop Dance World Championship, the Jensens begin more intensive training for the Hoop Dance Contest in October, working about one to two hours daily. Lane notes, “Our hoop dancing friends and other contestants provide us with a challenge and the goal to see what we can do with a hoop.”
However, the children also have another challenge: “They both have homework to do,” says LaDawn, “and parents are required to be part of their homework.” That includes spending time with Kailayne as she masters reading comprehension. Tyrese is already taking college courses through the Hoop of Learning program, which supports Native student achievement. He plans on attending community college, majoring in engineering, after he graduates high school in May. But, “I’ll be back here [at the Hoop Dance Contest] next year.”
Even though the family trade revolves around art and dance, the Jensens – and their children – remain grounded in their culture and strong family ties. “We live our culture,” says LaDawn. “We are responsible for the earth and its surroundings. We tell our children ‘Be good when no one’s looking.’ We tell them that having a good heart and being honest will take them someplace.” Lane adds, “We stress to them to always be respectful because ‘you are representing yourselves and your family; someone is always watching you.’”
Kailayne displays that respectfulness. “I’m thankful for my mother and what she has given me; she made what I use to wear and the things I dance with,” says the littlest Jensen. “My mother and father taught me and did so much for me.”
Even after winning multiple titles, Tyrese keeps his performance in perspective. “When I dance, I just go out with a clear mind and dance hard,” he says. “It’s always going to be a good outcome.” Tyrese is also thankful for the support of his friends and family.
“A lot of people congratulate us on good parenting,” says LaDawn. “I think that everybody contributes, because children learn from example. Because of our friends and our family, Tyrese and Kailayne have become inspired to participate in the hoop dance sport; because of them, they became who they are.”
The 27th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest brought 70 of the world’s best Hoop Dancers together for a weekend of competition and camaraderie. In addition to the competitions, which included at least one dance off, this year’s event also honored some individuals from the Hoop Dance community.
On Saturday, Valentino Rivera, Pojoaque Pueblo, a youth participant who passed in May 2016 after battling severe injuries sustained in a car crash, was honored by his family, his community and the Heard Museum. Also, the late Jeff Kahn, a former Heard Museum trustee, Hoop Dance enthusiast and sponsor of the teen division was honored by the museum and his family for his contributions to the Hoop Dance Contest.
On Sunday, Glen Ahhaitty, Kiowa/Comanche/Cherokee, was honored for his years of dedication to the hoop dance contest. Ahhaitty was one of the first to sing at Hoop Dance; his vocal influence on the judges set a high caliber for all who sing at the Hoop Dance Contest, according to a statement released by the Heard Museum.
27th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest Final Results
Adult Division – Hoop Dance World Championship
- World Adult Champion — Tyrese Jensen (Navajo/Maricopa), 18, Dilkon, Arizona, 237 points, $3,500
- Second Place — Tony Duncan (San Carlos Apache, Arikara, Hidatsa, Mandan), Mesa, Arizona, 236 points, $2,500
- Third Place — Dallas Arcand, (Cree, Nakota Souix, Metis), of Morinville, Alberta, Canada, 231 points, $2,000
- Fourth Place — Talon Duncan (San Carlos Apache, Arikara, Hidatsa, Mandan), Mesa, Arizona, 224 points, $1,500
- Fifth Place — James Jones (Cree), Tall Cree, Alberta, Canada, 223 points, $1,000
- Sixth Place — Michael Goedel (Yakama/ Tulalip/ Lumbee), Rancho Cucamonga, California, 219 points, $750
Senior Division – Hoop Dance World Championship
- World Senior Champion — Terry L. Goedel (Yakama/Tulalip) Rancho Cucamonga, California, 221 points, $2,500
- Second Place — Moontee Sinquah (Hopi/Tewa/Choctaw), Second Mesa, Arizona, 220 points, $2,000
- Third Place — Celina Cada-Matasawagon (Ojibway), Sheshegwaning First Nations, Manitoulin Island, Canada, 218 points, $1,500
Teen Division – Hoop Dance World Championship
- World Teen Champion — Nanabah Kadenehii (Dineh), Big Mountain, Arizona, 211 points, $750
- Second Place — Josiah Enriquez (Pueblo of Pojoaque), Santa Fe, New Mexico, 207 points, $500
- Third Place — Nathaniel Lakota Bears Heart, (Standing Rock/Santee Sioux), Monument, Colorado, 205 points, $350
Youth Division – Hoop Dance World Championship
- World Youth Champion — Kailayne Jensen (Navajo/Maricopa), Mesa, Arizona, 216 points, $350
- Second Place — Delano Paddock, (Navajo), Holbrook, Arizona, 200 points, $200
- Third Place — RJ Lopez (Pima, San Carlos Apache/ Arikara/ Hidatsa/ Mandan), Salt River, Arizona, 186 points, $150