In a classic case of the student besting the mentor, 25-year-old Nakotah LaRance (Hopi/Tewa/Assiniboine) hoop dancer from OhKay Owingeh Pueblo, New Mexico, took top honors in the Heard Museum‘s 25th World Hoop Dance Championships this year.
LaRance, who placed fourth in the 2014 competition won by 7-time world titlist Derrick Suwaima Davis (Hopi/Choctaw), beat defending champion Davis this time around by a mere 6 points. “He taught me my whole routine when I was a kid, but those teaching days are far behind,” said LaRance, who now mentors his own group of young hoop dancers ranging in age from 5-to-17.
LaRance, a master of his own 5 hoop routine, performs well in the spotlight but prefers to stay out of the limelight. “He’s media shy and doesn’t like to do interviews,” says his father, Steve LaRance. “Nakotah prefers to stay humble, enjoying his acting and dancing, and likes to let his performances speak for him.”
The work speaks for itself—loud and clear. He’s acted in movies (three films in three years including Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee), danced in a music video (“Geronimo,” by The Knocks and Fred Falke), and put in a two year stint as a featured artist with Cirque du Soleil’s Totem, where he played the part of “an Amerindian dancer who traced the evolution of species with his rings.”
“I could see how his time with the Cirque show sharpened and refined his skills, compared to some of his past competitions,” said Heard Museum Communications Manager Debra Utacia Krol (Xolon Salinan). “He was spot on for rhythm and style this year.”
In speaking with ICTMN about his World Championship performance win, he acknowledged that hoop dancing has captured his attention since age four. “As a kid, I was just amazed by the whole idea of this kind of performance,” he said. “What got me going as a dancer was the challenge of the hand-eye coordination and the fact that you could use your imagination to take the dance as far as you could.” LaRance’s tradition of winning stretches back over 20 years, to when he was a world champion in the Tiny Tot division.
Everyone has their own style and flair on the performance ground. For LaRance, it’s a familiar routine involving 5 hoops. “I’ve always used five, always will, although this year I did add some new moves. Five is a complex number to work with. It’s tricky to come up with any kind of move, to intertwine that number of hoops around your body. This year I came up with an additional original move and it proved to be the cherry on the top.”
Adult division (ages 18-to-39) dancers made butterflies and eagle wings with their hoops to symbolize the circle of life and the connection to the natural world and whatever it was that LaRance added to this year’s presentation impressed the judges, who called his performance “flawless.”
Admitting modestly that, “I’m no Jones Benally”—the now 90-something living legend who set the standard for professional hoop dancers—he’ll be working on his 2016 routine to again let his performance speak for him.
As the brief interview neared its end, he was asked if there was anything else that ICTMN readers should know about him—true to form, he breathed a sigh of relief and noted: “Nope. I’m good to go.”