Locke shares stories, culture

Jill Fier

Jill Fier

Kevin Locke, an internationally known hoop dancer and musician, performed last Wednesday night at the South Dakota Art Museum for over 200 people.

Locke, surrounded by Oscar Howe paintings of Native American dancers in the museum gallery, played original music on his Northern Plains flute and taught the audience how to sing in Lakotan.

While hoop dancing for the last half of the presentation, Locke combined intricate steps with the use of up to 28 different hoops to form structures on and around his body to represent different images and ideas.

After his performance, Locke taught a group of 15 children the basics of hoop dancing.

The hoops he uses in his dances are black, red, yellow and white, “to represent different elements and different kindred, different people,” he said.

Locke, who grew up on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, said he has been dancing for nearly all his life because of family tradition.

“My mom was a hoop dancer. I’ve been doing it since I could walk, about 48 years,” Locke, 49, said.

He has performed his complex and acrobatic dance in over 70 countries, South Dakota Art Museum Director Lynn Verschoor said.

Having completed 15 full-length recordings since 1982, Locke said his inspiration for his music comes from not only from traditional sources, but also from his surroundings, like “listening to the birds sing.”

Not only known as a dancer and a musician, Locke has been an educator of Native American culture for many years. He has been “doing programs for over 20 years at the Flandreau Indian School,” where 350 students come from 54 different tribes, Locke said.

The message in both his performance and his education through youth is to “struggle past what is holding you back.”

“Stand tall like the trees,” he said. “In South Dakota, we have strong roots. Draw strength from your roots and don’t forget your native roots.”