When Alex Wells was 13 years old, many people in his hometown of Mount Currie, B.C. thought he ran away to join a circus.
In reality, Wells had travelled to Vancouver to perform in a First Nations dance competition, where he met up with Red Thunder, a Calgary-based performance group. Shortly after, he joined the group, touring around the country with them and learning more about the art of hoop dancing from the group’s hoop dancer.
Dancing to drums and traditional First Nations songs, hoop dancing is a story-telling style of dance to teach people about First Nations culture, during which the solo dancer uses a dozen or more hoops to create formations.
The hoop was originally used in First Nations lodges and in ceremonies, and was made from willow trees. Now however, many hoops in the dance are made from plumbing tubing and duck tape to withstand heavy use, Wells said.
Each dancer has their own life story that they incorporate into the dance. For Wells, that means he incorporates the style of dance from his tribe Lil’wat, and makes formations of the animals they hunt and plants used for medicines.
Wells had tried many different lines of work over the years, including construction and office work, but always returned to hoop dancing because it allowed him to honour his aboriginal heritage.
“I had requests from many different people and people who encouraged me not to give it up,” said the now 40-year-old. “It’s part of our culture. It gives First Nations kids a sense of pride.”
Wells has become a champion of the sport and is the three-time hoop dancing world champion, using as many as 22 hoops at once.
He is now passing on his passion for hoop dance to his 13-year-old daughter, who travels with him when he performs.
Wells is one of many performers who will be at the Aboriginal Cultural Festival from June 17 to 19 in Victoria.
The three-day annual festival will kick off with the arrival of four canoes that will launch from Songhees Point and arrive in the Inner Harbour Friday, June 17.
The event, which takes place at the Royal B.C. Museum, also includes as a totem pole tour, food and performances from other nations including the Nuu-chah-nulth Dance Group (Nuu-chah-nulth Nation) and the Le-La-La Dancers (Kwakwaka’wakw Nation).
For more info visit aboriginalbc.com/yyj.