Meet the Minneapolis Brothers Rejuvenating Native Hoop Dance with Hip-Hop

Editor’s Note: Step into the shoes of dancers from across the country who dare to imagine what it would look like if their city could dance with KQED’s If Cities Could Dance. Watch a new episode from season two of the video series every Tuesday through May 14, 2019.

In hoop dance lore, every time dancers pass through their hoops, they get younger and younger. “So you've got to be careful,” Lumhe “Micco” Sampson jokes. “When you do that too much you'll end up back in first grade and with really tiny limbs.”

Micco and his older brother Samsoche (Seneca and Muscogee Creek), who perform together as the Sampson Brothers are well known on powwow grounds and beyond for their impressive hoop dance routines. They've performed at dance and music festivals in more than half a dozen countries, and made appearances at hundreds of schools and universities.

“To have an opportunity to exercise it, to me, is an act of sovereignty, of resistance,” says Micco. “I’m still here. I’m still dancing.”

It takes years of practice to master hoop dance, and the intricate footwork and high-level coordination necessary to manipulate sometimes as many as 42 hoops at a time. Hoop dancers interlock the rings to mimic majestic animals, small insects or celestial orbs.

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But the Sampson Brothers add another layer of difficulty to the traditional movements—they dance in synchronization, often to the beat of Native hip-hop, bridging the past and future in their coordinated steps.

Their mother, an acclaimed fancy shawl dancer, had them taking dance lessons from an early age. They spent their childhoods in Los Angeles, where their late father, Will Sampson, was establishing himself as a Native American actor in mainstream cinema (he played Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).

Today, after years spent living and dancing all over the country, the brothers are based in Minneapolis with their families. This, too, is about a connection between the past and future: The city was a starting ground for the American Indian Movement, which in turn, “was a call to action for a lot of urban indigenous people to reclaim their culture and their identities,” says Samsoche.

Watch the Sampson Brothers perform traditional hoop dance formations and reenact an Iroquois creation story in front of Minneapolis’ American Indian Center, on the Mississippi’s Stone Arch Bridge and underneath the Hennepin Avenue overpass, as well as teach the next generation of Native youth the art of the hoop. — Text by Sarah Hotchkiss

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