Lane Jensen began learning pow-wow styles of dancing when he was 9 years old, growing up on the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona. He’s performed for audiences around the state, around the country and in Canada. He’s won awards in many inter-tribal competitions. So it was probably just a matter of time before Lane and his wife, LaDawn Yazzie, began teaching their son, Tyrese, 11, and daughter Kailayne, 2, the traditions of the hoop dance. With time spent practicing, performing and traveling, living in Mesa during the school year and on the reservation in Dilkon whenever they can get away, Lane and LaDawn are weaving a colorful life of culture and tradition for their children.
Vicki: Talk about the meaning of the hoop dance, and when it is performed.
Lane: Hoop dancing is a specialty dance that is done at a lot of the social gatherings all across Indian country, in the United States and Canada. Basically, hoop dance tells the story of the circle of life.
Vicki: As you move the hoops around during the dance, sometimes it looks like a butterfly, or maybe animal jaws….
Lane: You’ll see the different formations of plants and animals—things that you would see in everyday lives, things that you would use. You’ll see the formations in various numbers of hoops. With one, two, three, all the way up to 50. It depends on what you were taught, and how many hoops you like to dance with.
Vicki: Is it tough to learn to maneuver the hoops while constantly maintaining the beat during the dance? It looks like quite an athletic feat.
Lane: You have to get used to dancing with the hoop, the drum, the tempos you like, stomping on time, making the formations visible and actually being creative.
Vicki: Tyrese, you’ve been doing this about three years. How did you get started?
Tyrese: I was just really into it. Other people were doing it, and I thought it was just very interesting.
Vicki: It looks complicated, like it might have been tough to learn. What was your challenge?
Tyrese: Doing the formations—and creating your own.
Vicki: What do you think about when you are performing? And how many days do you practice?
Tyrese: I just feel kind of embarrassed, but then I get used to it. I just think about other things, like my formations. We practice pretty much everyday.
Vicki: Is it hard to remember all of the parts?
Tyrese: Not really, no. Usually, I just have them stuck in my head.
Vicki: Do your buddies in the fourth grade know that you are a hoop dance performer?
Tyrese: No. I just try to keep it my secret talent.
Vicki: Does it take a lot of “natural talent” to perform? It looks like it is very tough, physically.
Lane: Tyrese, ever since he was Kylene’s age, he’s been around the pow-wow, and he’s always had that rhythm with the drum. He also dances fancy dance and grass dance.
Vicki: Okay, so now three questions: What is a pow-wow, what is fancy dance, and what is grass dance?
Lane: The older, traditional style is more of a graceful walk around. The fancy dance is a faster style of dancing. It came out in the 1920s [and] was a bit more popular with the younger men [and] different tribes in Oklahoma: Pawnee, Commanche. The grass dance is another older style of dance that a lot of the men do. The pow-wow is a gathering done all over the United States, where we get together…and celebrate [the] harvest. Nowadays you see [pow-wows at] some of the grand openings for the casinos—singing and dancing for two or three days.
Vicki: What are some other Native American traditions that you are passing down to your children?
LaDawn: If they work hard with something—it could be schoolwork, could be hoop dancing, something that they have a passion for—something good comes of it. It is something I encourage them to do. Whatever they want to do, I try to encourage them to try harder and do their best.
Vicki: You spend time in Mesa during the school year, and then get away to the Dilkon area whenever you can. Which do you prefer?
Lane: I would want to stay on the reservation because it is wide open and really quiet. But the city is here, we can watch movies, and go out to eat.
LaDawn: Living in both worlds, there are advantages and disadvantages, paying rent here (in Mesa), and then living back at home (in Dilkon)—we haul water, we don’t have electricity, we have to chop wood and do everything. It just depends on how hard that you want to work to have both. RAK