The dance doesn't belong to him, but he presents it in a creative, vibrant manner that never fails to capture attention. Kevin Locke has been hoop dancing for 35 years, has appeared in more than 90 countries and has more foreign trips on his upcoming schedule. Each time he dances, the Standing Rock resident proudly carries on a tradition of the Lakota and Dakota in what he says is best described as a "choreographed prayer."
"Our ancestors had these things that they prayed about, dreamed about or were inspired about that, perhaps, they couldn't accomplish or fulfill in their own lifetime," said Locke. "We can now do that on their behalf. Even during the coldest blizzard, it doesn't mean that inside of our thoughts and our heart that we can't have life and vitality. That's what the prayer is all about, a continuance of that force of life within ourselves, the individual, our extended family and then out beyond that."
Locke's mother lived at Standing Rock. She also was a hoop dancer, good enough to win a trophy for a performance at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. Locke speaks reverently of her and of the importance of the messages that are delivered in the hoop dance.
Kevin Locke, Standing Rock, has performed hoop dances in more than 90 countries.
"In the dominant Euro-American culture, the arts are entertainment," explained Locke. "In the Native-Indigenous culture, it is quite the opposite. The arts are the opposite thing."
According to Locke, many people today involved in a stressful and hectic life use music and the arts to escape reality. The native culture, says Locke, uses the arts to connect to that which is good and timeless.
"To connect ourselves with the dreams of our ancestors, the visions, aspirations of our ancestors. To connect us with the future, the unborn, to connect us with everything around us. Everything that has roots. Everything that flies. Everything that moves on the earth. We can connect us with our families, with everybody. We use music to do that," said Locke.
One of the earliest documentations of hoop dancing comes from a depiction on a hide painting believed to be about 200 years old. It shows four men who are believed to be performing somewhere in the Upper Missouri region.
Hoop dancers, then and now, deliver a traditional message. Locke says a primary purpose of the hoop dance is to celebrate spring, but he recognizes there is a much deeper and longer lasting meaning to the colorful dance.
"The whole idea behind the dance is that the hoop is the most pervasive archetype, ubiquitous symbol throughout the world. It invokes the same theme among all people because the hoop represents unity, peace, harmony, balance and beauty. It represents well being. All these things are symbolized by the hoop," said Locke.
Locke uses eight brightly colored wooden hoops for much of his dance but, at times, will have a seemingly impossible 28 hoops in motion. Twenty-eight is necessary to represent a 28-day lunar cycle that occurs in the spring.
"Every day in spring you wake up and see a new sign of life. You see a new color. You hear a new sound. Different birds migrate in the spring. Different insects return. It's a very dynamic process," stated Locke. "Using 28 hoops portrays that dynamic transformation from the cold, dark, life is dormant state, to the color, the beauty, the movement, the fragrance, the vitality of spring. The main thing you are praying for is springtime, that autumn can never overtake us. That's the springtime that's inside of us."
All who witness Locke's hoop dancing know they are experiencing something very unique. Few fully realize the deeper meaning, which Locke recognizes and expects. It is one of the reasons he has brought his dancing to the world.
"I'm not trying to convert, indoctrinate or anything like that," says Locke. "All I do is use these folk arts to accentuate a universal theme, to celebrate the nobility of the human spirit and the idea that we're not all isolated from each other. Lots of times you experience a different culture and think of it as something exotic or foreign. It may well be, but the moment you learn a song or a dance you can take ownership of that. It's more intrinsic to you."
Locke creates seemingly impossible and intricate designs with multiple hoops, all while dancing with energy and vigor. His presentations invoke a sense of awe and wonderment by those who see it. The dance opens doors that allows Locke to effectively communicate with his audience.
"I don't call myself a singer or a dancer or a flute player. I'm just trying to get a message across. I find, especially with younger audiences, the more you can activate that effective domain - arts, music, dance - all these things, then I am able to deliver the message more succinctly," said Locke. "The whole idea is to encourage kids, anybody of all ages, to develop their own potentiality. That's what the whole them is, a springboard to convey ideas that are encouraging and inspirational."
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to mdnews@minotdailynews