Giving back to the circle with Ascension Harjo

This year the Grand River Champion of Champions PowWow will be celebrating it’s 40th year from Friday, July 26 to Sunday July 28 at Chiefswood Park.

Aside from the expected exhibition dances and vendors, a commemorative contest will be taking place the year.

Former World Champion Hoop Dancer Ascension Harjo will be hosting a special for the teen boys and girls categories as a way to commemorate his transition from the teen to adult dancing category.

The 17 year-old dancer hails from the Mohawk Nation and Kickapoo and Seminole tribes and said he has been dancing since he was just two years old.

When asked what made him stick with it, he explained that it has always been a part of his life.

“My mom and dad are really into dancing and singing and the culture, and being around that and them taking me with them all over the place has always helped me stay into it, “ said Harjo. “And I just love the atmosphere that’s around it.”

But rather than just falling in love with atmosphere, Hard said that it’s been the love for dancing and the physicality of it altogether that has made him stick with it to tech the level of being a world champion.

“I just really love doing it,” he said. “I always want to be the best dancer that I can be and I watch a lot of other hoop dancers,” he said, as he named several of the biggest names in the hoop dancing circuit. “I always wanted to strive to be as good as they are.”

“I always set goals for myself and I try to achieve them.”

But just as many other dancers have experienced, he explained that dancing opens up many doors and creates a platform for friendships that otherwise might not have been made.

“Dancing has helped me meet a lot of great people out there and it keeps me aware of what’s going on in other reservations and other parts of the world as well.”

To host his own special is his way of giving that opportunity to more dancers.

Harjo and his family originally approached the PowWow Committee to host the special as an “honouring,” earlier this year.

“After we asked, a few months later we went back to them and they ‘yeah, sure, you guys can have your special,’ and now we’re pretty pumped for it.”

The honorarium money and contest money that Harjo has been able to accumulate through his performances has gone towards the prizes for the special, which includes $500 to each of the winners of the girl and boys category, and a $1000 purse for the overall winner as well as extra gifts. The prizes have also been put together through familial donations.

“We’ve been working really hard to put it together,” he said.

Many popular pow wow special contests include coordinated siblings dances and gender switch dances, but Harjo’s contest is going to have two separate categories dance against one another.

“It’s going to be a teen boys and teen girls fancy special,” he said. “So there’s going to be multiple rounds where we’re going to have the boys dance off against each other, then the girls, and once we get down to the final boy and the final girl, they’re going to have two songs and they’ll dance off against each other. Then we’ll pick the overall winner from that.”

His dancing has also brought him to dance alongside Taboo from the Black Eyes Peas, Nelly Furtado at the Pan Am Games.

In the future, Harjo said that besides continuing to travel through dancing and performing, he hopes to look into post secondary school for the culinary arts or business management.

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