Lillian Donahue

Friday, March 9, 2018

Full Circle: An urban Native American family keeps its traditions alive through dancing

PHOENIX – Ken Duncan Sr. sits at the corner of a basketball court, weaving red and yellow tape around a large hoop. While the 59-year old San Carlos Apache member works, he watches his children and grandchildren practice intricate patterns and fast footwork. The family has spent months preparing for their biggest hoop dancing competition of the year.

As the World Championship of Hoop Dancing approaches– held each year in Phoenix at the Heard Museum – the family practices nearly every other day behind their church, located on the Salt River Reservation.

“Tonight is my turn, tomorrow will be hers,” Duncan said, referring to his wife Doreen, 59. She is of North Dakota Arikara, Hidatsa and Mandan Indian heritage. The couple makes sure to be at every practice, supporting their family of dancers.

They call themselves the Yellow Bird Indian Dancers . More than a dozen members of the Duncan family, spanning three generations, participate in the family’s passion for hoop dancing. From Olympic stages to dirt circles, televised internationally and sometimes performing for an audience of just a handful, they have been spreading awareness of Native American culture and art for more than 25 years.

Many tribes across North America first used the dance in healing ceremonies. But it wasn’t until the mid 1900’s when hoop dancing became a popular Native American form of entertainment.

During that time, Tony White, a Jemez Pueblo dancer, began using multiple hoops in his performances, thus sparking a wave of interest in the traditional dance. Throughout the process, performers can use up to forty hoops to create intricate designs that symbolize patterns in nature.