Nakotah LaRance, Acclaimed Native American Hoop Dancer, Dies at 30


Nakotah LaRance, a nationally acclaimed Hopi-Tewa hoop dancer who performed with Cirque du Soleil, died on July 12 near the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo in New Mexico. He was 30.

His father, Steve LaRance, said he died after falling while climbing a bridge in Rio Arriba County, N.M.

Mr. LaRance’s career began when he was 4 and his aunt Lynnae Lawrence took him to a powwow, where he met the hoop dancer Derrick Suwaima Davis. Mr. Davis made Mr. LaRance his first set of hoops and taught him the basics of the style known as fancy dance.

Hoop dances, a tradition in many Native American cultures, are passed down from one generation to the next, as Mr. Davis did with Mr. LaRance. The dances, which can involve more than 50 hoops, paint pictures of individual and tribal stories. The circular shape of the hoops symbolizes the circle of life; the hoops are decorated with tape and paint to represent the changing colors of each season.

“Hoop dance is originally a medicine dance, for healing,” Mr. LaRance told The Arizona Daily Sun in 2016. “Mine is involved in modern and Native American performance for the beauty of movement, and to be in touch with oneself when one is moving.”

Soon after Mr. LaRance began dancing, his father took him to compete in the annual World Championship of Hoop Dance at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. He won three youth division championships and three teenage division championships before winning the adult division title in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

In 2004 he performed on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” He later competed on “America’s Most Talented Kids,” where he won his episode.

Mr. LaRance was also an actor. He was seen in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 TNT mini-series, “Into the West,” a performance for which he won an acting award from the organization First Americans in the Arts. He later appeared in the HBO movie “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” (2007) and a 2012 episode of the AMC series “Longmire.”

Nakotah Lomasohu Raymond LaRance was born on Aug. 23, 1989, in Barrow (now Utqiagvik), Alaska. His father is a jeweler and a sculptor; his mother, Marian Denipah, is a jeweler and a painter.

The family moved to Flagstaff, Ariz., several months after Mr. LaRance was born. He attended Coconino High School there before transferring to the Flagstaff Arts & Leadership Academy in his junior year.

Shortly after graduating from high school, Mr. LaRance became a principal dancer with Cirque du Soleil. He joined the troupe in 2009 and traveled with it for more than three years.

He was a principal dancer at the opening ceremonies of the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto and performed at an American Folklife Center concert in Washington in 2016. He later went to New Mexico to work as the master instructor for the Pueblo of Pojoaque Youth Hoop Dancers.

In 2017, 2018 and 2019 he performed in the Brooklyn Ballet’s “Brooklyn Nutcracker,” mixing his traditional hoop and hip-hop dances.

“My inspirations are movements in the world from hip-hop to martial arts,” he told The Arizona Daily Sun. “When I was younger, Michael Jackson was a huge influence. Growing up, a big influence has been the Twins from Paris,” the French dancer-choreographers who have performed alongside artists like Beyoncé and Missy Elliott.

In addition to his parents, Mr. LaRance is survived by two sisters, Nizhoni Denipah and ShanDien Sonwai LaRance; a brother, Cree LaRance; and his paternal grandparents, Ed and Rosella Lawrence.

Though he made his name dancing on the national stage, Mr. LaRance always said he found the most fulfillment in passing his craft on to a new generation.

“My kids come up and give me a big hug and are so happy to be doing what they are doing,” he said in a 2016 interview with The Santa Fe New Mexican. “Educating others about their world and their tribal heritage and sharing that through performances with other people — to me that’s the payoff.”

“To make that contribution to the community through my art, through working with youth,” he added, “is enough for me.”

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