Healing through the storytelling of hoop dancing

·3 min read

Students from Edgewater Elementary School (EES) have recently begun hoop dancing lessons with their Aboriginal Education Support Worker (AESW) Debra Murray.

The purpose of incorporating a culturally safe learning program for Indigenous students in the community is to encourage social-emotional well-being to work towards leading healthy lives as young adults.

Roughly 13 years ago, Murray organized a performance by hoop dancer Jessica McMann at the community hall. More recently, Dallas Arcand Jr. performed in the community and drew a crowd.

“We had hoop dancers come into the valley to put on a show, and then we started putting on a program for J.A. Laird students,” said Murray, while indicating the cultural program is funded through a partnership and grant initiative with Michelle Shewell from Problem Gambling. “I was encouraged to bring the hoop dance back to the kids, and the kids were really interested in that dance and the story of that dance.”

Ultimately, this led to a tertiary performance at the library roughly a year ago before the building was sold.

Now, EES AESW Murray and Problem Gambling partner Shewell have applied for additional grants to keep the program running.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Calgary-based business Wild Mint Arts has been offering teachings about hoops and the importance of hoop dancing through lessons on Zoom. Participants from EES are also learning about the medicine wheel.

According to a popular Anishinaabe storyteller, there was once a young boy who did not enjoy running or hunting activities that were typically expected of young men. The boy spent a lot of time alone, quietly observing animals in the outdoors. As a result of the boy’s lack of interest in activities for young men, his father disowned him and the young boy continued to watch the way that animals moved in nature. After some time had passed, the young boy began to mimic the movement of animals and created hoop dancing some years ago. After children from his community saw this style of dancing, the boy became popular and offered performances as well as lessons to others from the nation.

Today, hoop dancing is viewed as a healing dance that’s used to tell stories through the use of hoops to make shapes that represent animals, symbols, spheres or designs. Dancers use their hands or their feet to move the hoops into different configurations during a performance.

“It’s a healing dance and it tells a story, so for the children, picking up their hoops — it means they’re picking up their lives, and it’s their story,” explained Murray. “It can be fun or it can be an expression of what they want to see and know. There’s a ceremony with it.”

She added hoop dancing can help build confidence in young Indigenous participants, which helps them self-locate amidst the ongoing racism in each community by encouraging dancers to build up their own knowledge and exhibit strength to others.

Murray remains optimistic that the youth from EES will feel empowered to learn songs, drumming and dancing in an effort to learn coping skills for intergenerational trauma that has lingered from the residential school system.

“We can’t go through all of that and not be affected,” Murray explained.

Breanne Massey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer