It starts with a simple circle, made of wood or plastic piping.
It’s what Dallas Chief Eagle does with these small hoops that makes them magical.
Hoop dance is a form of storytelling dance incorporating anywhere from one to 30 hoops as props, which are used to create both static and dynamic shapes, or formations, representing various animals, symbols, and storytelling elements. During the dance, hoops are joined into shapes in storytelling ritual such as the butterfly, the eagle, the snake, and the coyote, with the hoop symbolizing the never-ending circle of life.
The 61-year-old Chief Eagle, a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota, has become a master of the hoop dance over the past 40 years.
He became interested in the art form after watching his grandparents, Jim and Alice Black Horse, and he became the young dancer who traveled with their show. Now he’s out telling his stories through hoop dance every week.
Among the highlights of his career, Dallas Chief Eagle was a First Place Winner in the Reno Red Cloud Memorial Hoop Dance Contest, Oglala Fair in 1997, and in 1996 he took First Place in the Senior Division of the World Hoop Dance Contest in Phoenix, Ariz. Currently, he is an Artist-In-Schools participant with the Utah Arts Council. Dallas Chief Eagle is also a storyteller, touring artist and director of the Hoop Dance Academy at the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota, teaching future generations
He’s helping his people in other ways, as well. In l983 Chief Eagle earned a bachelor of science degree in Art Education from the University of South Dakota and received his master of arts degree at the same university in Counseling, Guidance and Personnel Services. He holds membership in the American Association of Counseling and Development, the National Art Therapy Association, the South Dakota Indian Counselors’ Association (of which he was president for two terms); and the Medicine Wheel Association, Big Horn Mountains.
Chief Eagle said that the hoop dance has much to offer his people.
“The circle of life has been broken, and we’re attempting to mend that hoop,” he explained. “How we take care of our own personal hoops is necessary to mend our relationship with nature. Our people have had a broken hoop since before the Battle of Little Big Horn. Since then, seven generations have been suffering from emotional poverty, and have stopped trusting each other. Part of my job is mending the hoop one tribe at a time, getting them to trust each other.”
Chief Eagle will be joined at the American Folk Festival by his 18-year-old daughter, Star. He’s also bringing along 150 hoops, so the audience can take part in the hoop dance as well.
“When you see all those hoops coming together, that’s the way life is supposed to be,” Chief Eagle said.