Francis Johnson Sr. teaches Marie Sharpe Elementary School students how to hoop dance as part of the school’s First Nations cultural awareness program.

Francis Johnson Sr. teaches Marie Sharpe Elementary School students how to hoop dance as part of the school’s First Nations cultural awareness program.

Marie Sharpe students learn how to hoop dance

It all started last year in late spring when Francis Johnson Sr. walked in the front doors of Marie Sharpe Elementary.

It all started last year in late spring when Francis Johnson Sr. walked in the front doors of Marie Sharpe Elementary and asked to have a moment of my time to explain to me an opportunity he had for the students.

I gladly offered Francis some time to outline his idea for the intermediate students to learn the basics of traditional Shuswap hoop dancing.

Francis explained that in a couple of months he could teach the children and share some of his Shuswap heritage in the process.

Being very intrigued I began to write a funding proposal to the SD 27 First Nations Education Committee to fund the opportunity.

Thanks to the generosity of the SD 27 First Nations Education Committee the funding proposal was accepted and approved in the fall.

Planning ensured and a start date in January was set.

Francis came into Marie Sharpe with a mountain of energy and enthusiasm for his culture and hoop dancing that was infectious to say the least.

Francis, with his many helpers and the support of First Nations language teachers, Zena Chelsea (Shuswap) and Charlotte Haines (Chilcotin) began making hoops with the students with which to learn their dancing routines.

Over the next 10 weeks Francis and the students built 24 sets of  five hoops for each student to dance with and immediately began giving lively demonstrations and up beat dance lessons.

The students immediately knew they were going to have to get into better shape if they were to keep up with this local dancing legend and rose to the challenge.

It may look easy but hoop dancing is anything but, the dances require skill and physical strength as the moves are tricky and high energy throughout the songs.

The final performance was set for April 2 with everyone ready to go.

The student performers were Mrs. Hansen’s and Mrs. Bruce’s Grade 3-4 class followed by separate performances by the boys and girls in Mr. Armstrong’s Grade 5-6 class.

After the students performed three demonstration dances followed: a Jingle Dance performed by Dawn-Lynn Ross, a Grass Dance performed by Ronnie Johnson and a Fancy dance performed by Francis Johnson.

Also of special note was the amazing drumming performed by Jacinta Sampson, Lydia Sampson, Zena Chelsea, Charlotte Haines and Ronnie Johnson.

The final performance was an amazing display of cultural sharing that had students from all ethnic backgrounds participating and helping where needed.

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Francis Johnson, the staff at Marie Sharpe Elementary and the First Nations Education council for making this opportunity for cultural sharing and learning to take place.

Craig Munroe is principal of Marie Sharpe Elementary.

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