PHOENIX – Wiikwemkoong band member Lisa Odjig is the only woman to have taken the top spot on the podium at the annual world championships, and she has done it not once, but twice. After years away from actively competing and since sitting as a judge, Ms. Odjig stepped once again into the arena at the 30th Annual World Championship Hoop Dance competition in Phoenix, Arizona, just missing out on an amazing hat-trick—by one point.
“I won second place in the senior adult division (40-plus),” said Ms. Odjig following the competition. When the announcement of the scores rang out across the dance arena following the judge’s tabulation. “You could hear people say ‘aw’.”
“I was beat by one point,” she said. “It was so close.”
Ms. Odjig stepped into the role of judge for the first time at the Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest last year, an experience that had a deep impact upon her and led her to an important decision.
“Watching all of the dancers so close inspired me to go out and hoop dance at the World Championship,” she said. “When I returned back home to Wiikwemkoong for the following weekend, I sat down with some family in the living room one night and asked them ‘Do you think I should compete there again?’”
“I remember looking into my uncle Fuddy’s (Odjig) eyes as he looked into mine as well and said ‘yeah, yeah, I think you should,’ with a little head nod. My father, uncles and auntie all gave the okay.”
Still it was a brave decision when one considers how long she had been out of competition. “I haven’t competed since 2007,” she said. “But I felt it was something I needed to do, so I booked the vacation days off and once it was approved I got in touch with the museum to let them know I wasn’t going to be a judge so they had plenty of time to find someone else.”
Ms. Odjig currently works at Health Canada in Toronto.
You could say that Ms. Odjig practically has the hoop dance in her blood. Not only is it an integral part of her celebration of her culture, she comes from a family of hoop dancers. Her uncle (Geordie Odjig) was a hoop dancer in his turn and helped her to learn the hoops when she was starting out.
“There is something powerful about the hoop dance, drumming and singing,” she said. “The hoop dance is a gift I was meant to dance and share.”
Taking on a world championship run is not just a matter of showing up for the competition, however. It is a physically demanding art.
“To prepare, I keep physically fit and watch my diet,” she said. “I walked, jogged, biked and swam—and I entered my very first triathlon competition in Toronto in July 2019.”
It can be a grueling regimen. “I ran and biked in -7° Celsius weather this winter—no Peloton (indoor bike) for me.”
Ms. Odjig was shocked to discover another aspect of her competing this year. “I was featured in VOGUE (the world’s premiere fashion magazine) from NYC while hoop dancing in Phoenix,” she said. Photos from that shoot can be found online at the Vogue website at www.Vogue.com/vogueworld/article/heard-museum-hoop-dancing-championship-contest-photos.
When it comes to advice for any young kwe who are considering following the path into competitive hoop dancing, or just taking up the hoop dance, Ms. Odjig said to follow their passion but be prepared to push through to succeed, but above all “enjoy it.”
“It takes patience and practice,” she said, noting it can also be a bit daunting to get out and dance in front of a large crowd. “But once the drumming begins and you start to dance, you get into the zone and all that fades into the background. You dance with your heart. So embrace it, enjoy it and be proud of your culture.”