Patrick Willie (left) and Joseph Secody performed hoop dancing at Helen M. Knight Elementary in 2019. [Courtesy of Friends of the Moab Folk Festival]

In traditional hoop dancing, the hoops represent the circle of life, Joseph Secody told the Friends of the Moab Folk Festival last year. The dances tell stories of connection as Secody and Patrick Willie, his friend and fellow Navajo dancer, weave the hoops together and toss them in the air.

Willie and Secody will teach hoop dancing to fourth-grade students at Helen M. Knight Elementary and put on a free public performance on Friday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center.

They were invited by the Friends of the Moab Folk Festival, a nonprofit that promotes accessible music programming in Moab and puts on the annual Moab Folk Festival every fall.

Patrick Willie is devoted to his hoop dancing craft, which allows him to travel and perform across the world. His passion has gained him 70,000 followers on Instagram (@patrickisnavajo), where he posts hoop dancing videos.

“I love so many things about hoop dancing,” he wrote in a recent article in Thrillist magazine. “The hoop dance is creative, upbeat, and at times, mind-blowing to witness … When I dance, I create a visual story with different formations of my hoops.”

Willie and Secody have been to Moab before—the pair first came in 2019 to do the same thing they’ll do this year, to teach fourth grade students about hoop dancing. The students loved the program so much that Cassie Paup, festival director at the Friends of the Moab Folk Festival, agreed to keep bringing Willie and Secody back.

Last school year, the pair weren’t able to do in-person instruction with the students. Instead, they created videos and taught the students online. Their final performance can be viewed on the Moab Folk Festival’s Youtube channel.

When they visit HMK on December 6-9, Willie and Secody will teach students about Navajo culture, the significance of hoop dancing, and the basics of the dance. Students will start with one hoop, and try to work up to four—Willie and Secody typically dance with around 15 hoops, although Willie has created moves and formations that involve up to 30.

The cultural aspect is especially important to Willie and Secody. For the past eight years, Willie has worked with the Title VI Native American Education Program in Salt Lake City, in which he teaches Native students in elementary, middle and high schools about the hoop dance and pow wow steps.

“A lot of times I find myself dancing for people who are not Native American, and I see that as my opportunity to share my traditions and to battle stereotypes or preconceived notions they might have about us,” Willie wrote.

Paup said she hopes the performance gives the Moab community a chance to learn about and experience an important piece of Navajo culture.

“The synergy between Joseph [Secody] and Patrick [Willie] is fabulous, both in the classroom and while they perform,” she said. “They’re both pretty young and athletic and they have a fun rapport. They not only perform to traditional music but also to modern music, so it’s a bit of a mashup.”