I distinctly remember the university course I took, where it was stated that in the social hierarchy Native women are at the very bottom, below every other race and gender. This summer, this event, helped to change that...
Following my journey to the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest, a male dominated title, I wrote a blog to honor the role of women and advocate for balance and equality in what society values as important, valid and praise-worthy. My routine for that event was created to honor the strength and gifts of women. I titled that blog "Women in the Circle" which you can read here.
This call for gender balance was shared by others. This August a call was made to all Women Hoop Dancers to participate in the first and only event of its kind at the Intermountain All-Woman Hoop Dance Contest in Salt Lake City, Utah. Organized by Saanii Atsitty and hosted by This is the Place Heritage Park.
For myself, this was highly anticipated event. I began asking questions and getting to know Saanii, which was a great relief, and made all the difference for me wanting to attend.
Once I read the official rules for the event I was even more excited. Instead of using "showmanship" as one of the judging criteria, they used Grace/ Elegance. I was literally in shock and awe. I was floored by how changing one word can change the whole game. I felt for the first time that my style and skills were reflected in the contest rules!
According to Dictionary.com the Word Origin and History for showmanship (1859) comes form the word showman "one who presents shows". Breaking that word down, "show" means an exhibit, display, entertainment, or spectacle; and "man" adult male person, obviously; the ending "-ship" denoting skill. Taken all together this translates to 'display of adult male skill'. This does not reflect my style as a female hoop dancer. Also, the word 'show' does not reflect my practice as a hoop dancer, for me it is more than a show, I also embrace the story and teachings behind the dance. One example is being drug and alcohol free for almost ten years.
At the Intermountain All-Woman Hoop Dance Contest the words used as judging criteria were Grace, meaning "elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action" and Elegance as refinement. This was definitely more true to who I am as a female hoop dancer, who I always have been, and who I always will be, as an Indigenous woman. Of course, not saying all women feel this way, or would agree, or should be graceful and elegant, this is just my personal feeling. Women can be whatever they want and should not been ashamed of who they are naturally.
This one word started to make me think of how unfair this would make the contest for a male hoop dancer, how would they feel having to be graceful and elegant? How awkward would they feel trying to show grace and elegance? This got me thinking of the larger society, and how many more rules and words out there that favor male characteristics?
I feel that the world is changing, returning to balance, supported by seemingly small acts by courageous women. I feel that a single word, broken down like this can create change in how we see the world, how we define ourselves and others. One word can change the rules, change the game, and change how we see success.
Hiy hiy/ Thank you, Saanii Atsitty, and all the committee of the Intermountain All-Woman Hoop Dance Contest, for giving me a sense of pride and hope, as an Indigenous woman and as a hoop dancer. I am honored to have the privilege of being the first adult woman champion at this event!