This July I was honored to teach hoop dancing for the Aboriginal Girls Leadership Circle hosted by the University of Alberta. The summer camp was focused on Cree language and culture, all the instructors were Cree women who also served as role models and mentors.
Over the years I have been blessed to perform, teach, and/or present for many different audiences, from Toronto business men to homeless youth; police officers to prison inmates; from daycare centres to universities; from isolated First Nations communities to New York City. One thing I have realized from these different experiences is that I am assumed to be the role model, but from my perspective, it is often the other way around. Whatever walk of life, the people I meet inspire me. I am inspired to try harder, I am humbled, I develop compassion for others, and so much more.
The Aboriginal Girls Leadership Circle was no different. My week with them taught me a special lesson on the meaning of leadership and the role of culture and dance in developing good leaders for First Nations people. For First Nations people all the traditional values that we admire in our elders is exactly what we should value in all leaders, political, spiritual, cultural, etc.
Through the hoop dance I was able to teach about leadership because of the many teachings embodied in the hoop itself. I taught two groups of girls and each group created a team dance performed for family and friends. Since each group was mixed in terms of age, knowledge, and experience it often meant that we had to move at a pace that was suitable for all. This was not a setback, but an opportunity to teach about leadership. The hoop itself represents unity, inclusiveness, and equality which are all important lessons for leadership. We kept this in mind as we created our hoop team dances. Each shape created with the hoops was done as a group, they waited for everyone to be ready before moving on, and they helped each other if they were stuck. This demonstrated an important lesson for leadership from a First Nations perspective: When we move forward, we bring everyone with us. We don’t leave each other behind. This is different from the idea of leadership in mainstream society which is often about ‘me’ and ‘how can I get ahead of everyone else?’. This, from a First Nation perspective, would actually make a bad leader. A good leader would be someone who works for others, works for the people, moves forward and brings others with them, includes others, treats others fair, lifts people up, and encourages others.
This Aboriginal Girls Circle of Leadership taught me that leadership is not only represented through circles, it also moves in a circle. All the inspiration, teachings, and lessons that I received from watching and listening to the girls at the camp helped me to become a better person, a better performer and mentor, which will help me to give back and share with others. Knowledge flows in a circle, from the world around me, filtered, processed, and transformed through me and passed on to others…
This is an important message. Since I use traditional stories and teachings in my performances, as inspiration for choreography, or represented in the different dance styles, I am a representative for First Nations culture. My actions and behavior are a reflection of the dances I create or participate in.
Dance does not belong to us, we belong to the dance, we belong to the circle...
**Opinions expressed here are based on personal experiences working with/ learning from others and may not reflect the opinions of other dancers/ First Nations**