Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

28 hoops later

Weinberg welcomes Lakota Sioux tradition, transcendence

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Photos courtesy of Ixtlan Artists Group
Kevin Locke performs the Hoop dance, a Plains Indian tradition celebrating the annual rebirth of nature.
With each passing performance, things come colorfully full circle for Native American storyteller, teacher and artist Kevin Locke — and, he hopes, for his audience, as well.

As master of the traditional Plains Indians Hoop dance — a wondrous, whirling spectacle in which precision deftly orbits tradition — Locke aims not only for entertainment with his unique gift, but enlightenment, sharing a message of unity for all people and cultures via the medium.

Teamed with his status as the pre-eminent player of the indigenous Northern Plains flute — a tradition that once neared extinction — his gift of storytelling, and his ability to reach audiences of all ages, Locke promotes ideals of conservation and diversity during hundreds of annual appearances both at home and abroad.

On Wednesday, Locke will visit The Weinberg Center for the Arts for a special after school performance tailored to his target demographic — children.

It’s interesting to note Locke’s Lakota name, Tokeya Inajin, or ‘‘The First to Arise.”

That would make his audience the last to do so, it would seem. But when they do — it is certain to be with rousing applause.

Circles of friends

Locke — Lakota and Anishinabe — initially learned to dance from his mother, Patricia, who he cites as a ‘‘big influence.” Raised in South Dakota, the values and tradition of his native culture were passed down from his family — his mother, his uncle Abraham End-of-Horn, his mentor Joe Rock Boy and several others. It was from North Dakota’s Arlo Good Bear, a Mandan Hidsata Indian, that he acquired his higher education in Hoop dancing.

A Northern Plains tradition, the Hoop dance celebrates the passage of winter to spring — symbolized by 28 wooden hoops, each representing a day in the lunar cycle, and each color —black, red, yellow and white — signifying four directions, seasons, winds and human races.

Through Locke’s astounding and intricate dance, serving as conduit for the intersecting and interchanging hoops, the symbiotic relationship between all living things is displayed to dazzling effect.

Locke has been performing the Hoop dance for nearly 53 years, but says he hasn’t quite mastered it yet.

‘‘I figure if I ever get close to perfecting it, I’ll quit.”

‘‘Hoop dancing is like a choreographed prayer. Dancing is all about motion and movement and color. So it’s one of the most natural things. It’s [about] expressing a spiritual connection. It’s a unique concept to the Western world, but it’s very much a universal concept... It incorporates the world’s most universal architect: The circle ... which evokes the basic symbolism [of] unity, harmony, balance, beauty and well-being. The prayer of the hoop dance is that we will be restored to all of that spiritually. And not just individually, but collectively.”

It is not that this prayer is needed today more than ever, said Locke, but that its realization is within our grasp.

‘‘It’s always been necessary. In the past, though, we could only dream and hope and pray about it. Today, you and I are living in a time where the dream is being realized. We are agents in its fulfillment.”

Culture 101

Nearly two-thirds of Locke’s audiences are comprised of children from schools, community centers and reservations countrywide — an ever-growing fan-base the artist is thrilled to be a part of.

His presentations, though imbued with native tradition, are not a product of any one culture.

‘‘This is absolutely not a cultural presentation,” he says. ‘‘That’s always the assumption.”

Its message, he notes, knows no borders.

‘‘We need to get to a place where we see ourselves as part of each others’ lives ... That’s why folk arts and traditional arts are the perfect place to celebrate human values. Folk art is something a community arrives at over many generations. It really speaks to everyone in the world.”

‘‘The main aspects of the presentation include a lot of participation. We are living in a dormant culture, experiencing everything vicariously — like sitting on a lounger watching the flat screen TV. The danger with living vicariously is that everything is external to our own experiences. We have to see ourselves as participants in an emerging global civilization. It’s a necessity to celebrate where we all come from ... The only way to do that is to take [people] out of the realm [of dormancy]. Kids can see anything as foreign or exotic, but once they take part in it, it becomes part of their reality.”

‘The First Flute’ forever

Only twenty years ago, the indigenous Northern Plains flute verged on extinction. Locke inherited the instrument’s legacy from his mentor Richard Fool Bull, who passed away in 1976.

In 1990, Locke was honored by The National Endowment for the Arts, as ‘‘a Master Traditional Artist who has contributed to the shaping of our artistic traditions and to preserving the cultural diversity of the United States.”

‘‘Traditional usage [existed] up until the 1970s when the last carriers passed away. For countless generations, the flute was used to instrumentalize ...vocal, melodic structures. We called them love songs, though not all were about love — some were about heartbreak and unrequited love. Then something happened. [Musicians] began to use it as an instrument of improvisation. Basically, you could go into any store and pick up an album billed as Native American flute. But the music you’re going to hear there has zero relationship to the original. No one who buys it would know that, of course. I know, because I’m currently the only one who still plays. I have a repertoire of songs from the 19th century. I got them before that generation passed on.”

The rain dance

Locke, who continues to reside in Walkpala, S.D., called from Tampa Bay, Fla., where he was readying for an international showcase spotlighting youth performers. From there, he said, he would travel to Minneapolis, to Seattle, to Pennsylvania, eventually making his way to Maryland — and Frederick.

Locke’s performances number in the hundreds annually.

‘‘It really varies. My artist management team is trying to step it up a bit. I’ve done three or four dance performances per day when touring. Those can add up really quickly. But then there are long stretches when I don’t tour at all. When it rains, it pours, I guess.”

Kevin Locke presents

‘The Hoop of Life’

When: 4 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Weinberg Center for the Arts, 20 W. Patrick St., Frederick

Tickets: $10 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $5 for children 10 and younger

For information:

301-600-2828,

301-600-2838 TTY

www.weinbergcenter.org