Students at Edgewater Elementary School squirmed with anticipation as they waited for hoop dancer Dallas Arcand to perform on Wednesday, November 21st.
But the world champion Cree performer from the Alexander First Nation north of Edmonton aspires to do far more than entertain his audiences; he intends to build a better society.
“First Nations people suffer quite a lot with racism and addictions and I suffered as well growing up with intergenerational trauma. So I’m being a frontiersman, being at the forefront of the pack, to essentially motivate all of the youth,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Arcand estimates he’s seen more than half of the country’s First Nations reserves.
“It’s third world living conditions and all the youth are lost,” he said.
That’s where he and his show come into play.
“When the kids watch me they get to see firsthand a successful young indigenous person. I’m only 21 years old and I travel all over the world,” he said.
After opening with a welcoming song on his cedar flute, Mr. Arcand picked up his hoop and told the children: “I want to introduce you to one of the oldest dances known to North America.”
“There’s a lot of lessons and teachings in a circle,” he said, rolling the hoop away and watching as it returned on its own. “What you put out into the world is just going to come right back to you.”
Mr. Arcand danced with a single hoop and then invited some adult audience members including Principal Darryl Turner to join him to test their own hooping skills in case they thought his tricks looked easy.
Ethan, a grade 7 student, was also invited to participate in the lesson and received some one-on-one coaching on how to hold and swirl a hoop.
Once Mr. Turner dropped his hoop – to the children’s great amusement – and the audience volunteers were thoroughly convinced that hooping was a challenge, Mr. Arcand gathered all 13 of his hoops and paused to share the history behind his grand finale.
The dance was based on a story about a young warrior in the wild who was being pursued by predators, Mr. Arcand said. When the warrior prayed for help, the Creator gave him hoops so he could shapeshift and take the form of other animals to escape.
Mr. Arcand arranged his hoops in a circle on the floor, stood in the centre and began an elaborate dance where he added hoops one at a time and used them to mimic a bear, a bird, a crocodile and more.
After the show Ethan, the student volunteer, raved about Mr. Arcand’s performance.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It was crazy.”