Mixing hoop dance with hip hop: the Sampson Brothers

In B-BREAK, News by admin_dnc

©DNC/ JAVIER TORRES

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.

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.

Artist family

 “Artistry runs in our family on both sides”, Sam explained. “It has always been in our blood”. Their mother is an acclaimed fancy dancer who broke down barriers as one of the first women to take up hoop dancing, which some still consider controversial.

“We had a lot of critics because it was a taboo thing for women to be hoop dancing”, said Micco, “but who are we to tell a woman what she can or cannot do, especially when it comes to preserving our culture?”.

Their father, Will Sampson, was an artist and actor, perhaps best known for his role as Chief Bromden in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. He’s known for his integrity and refusal to play stereotypical roles at a time when that’s what Hollywood wanted out of Native actors.

The Sampson Bros have carried on this familial legacy of activism through performance art. They started dancing when they could walk. At the age of 6they picked up hoop dancing. By the age of they were performing in front of hundreds of school children, asked to teach their peers in Los Angeles.