Santa Fe Indian School Athlete Also Hoop Dance Champion | Local News
Shadé-Phea Young’s journey to becoming world hoop dance champion wasn’t supposed to include a failed flight and a long drive to Phoenix.
But those were the cards handed out to the Santa Fe Indian School junior and her mother, Nizhoni Denipah, when they began their journey to the world championship hoop dance competition on March 26. After missing a 5 a.m. departure from Albuquerque, the pair opted to hit the road, trading more than an hour of flight time for eight hours on four wheels.
“My mom was like, ‘All we can do is drive now,'” Young recalled.
The return trip was happier.
Young, 16, won the teenage division of the competition and in doing so paid homage to her family’s legacy, the memory of a beloved role model and gone too soon and, perhaps, her own athletic abilities. After all, hoop dancing is just one of her many talents; others include volleyball, basketball, and softball.
“It’s rare to find kids who want to try everything and be a part of everything and make it their own, and that’s what she does,” SFIS softball head coach Oliver Torres said about of his star player. “She’s proud to show ownership of her school and her team and where she’s from and all that stuff.”
Sometimes pride and courage connect in amazing ways. Such was the case for Young at the world championships, when she turned frustration into inspiration.
Unexpectedly advancing into the second round after rushing into the competition, Young then endured three more rounds of competition, including a dance off against fellow SFIS student Mitchell Gray in the final, en route to winning the teenage title with a score of 192 judges points.
The win allowed Young to add another chapter to his family’s hoop dancing history. His uncle, world champion Nakotah LaRance, turned his art style into a three-year run with Cirque du Soleil, plus an acting career before his unexpected death in 2020 at the age of 30. Her aunt, ShanDien Sonwai LaRance, also performed with her brother. for Cirque du Soleil and is a model and actress.
The LaRances’ father, Steve LaRance, was instrumental in helping Nakotah LaRance start the Lightning Boy Foundation, a nonprofit that provides hoop dancing lessons and other forms of dance to Native American children, in 2013. ShanDien Sonwai LaRance is an instructor for the group.
Denipah said her daughter, who took her father’s last name, Darren Young, had been a hoop dancer since she could walk; Nakotah LaRance and ShanDien Sonwai LaRance were his instructors.
“When she was maybe 2 years old, she was dancing [at the World Championship Hoop Dance contest]said Denipah. “We have pictures of her when she was in the Tiny Tots division.”
Last month’s hoop dance weekend was going to feature the family, as organizers held a memorial for Nakotah LaRance. It was the first time the event had taken place in person since his death. After cases of the omicron variant COVID-19 increased, recognition was moved from February to March to ensure people could attend.
“I think it worked. It was a good turnout,” Denipah said of the postponement decision.
If nothing else, the timing worked out perfectly because Young, who is Hopi, Navajo and Ohkay Owingeh, said she wouldn’t have played on the original date because she was engulfed in basketball- ball. She was a starting forward for the SFIS team that lost in the Class 3A Championship game in mid-March.
She still hadn’t planned to dance until a week before the pageant, saying she did it to honor her uncle.
Steve LaRance said Nakotah LaRance had a profound effect on Young, especially after he died in a rock climbing accident. Not only was he his uncle and instructor, but Steve LaRance said one of Young’s first plane rides was seeing Nakotah LaRance perform at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
“I think it reinstilled in all of us, including her, the desire to keep dancing and to keep teaching young kids,” Steve LaRance said. “She steps in and helps [ShanDien Sonwai LaRance]who has now become the organization’s master instructor, and also helps teach the younger ones.
The influence of family was clear at the contest. The coral dress Young wore for the pageant was designed by her aunt; his mother created his leggings. Steve LaRance drummed and sang during Young’s dance.
However, she had to get to Phoenix first. Young said she and her mother were late and reached the door of their flight to find the doors had been closed moments before they arrived. Denipah said she got little sleep the night before their scheduled flight and her daughter took the controls for the first leg of the trip while she slept. Denipah handled the rematch and they finally arrived in Phoenix with just minutes to spare.
Young arrived at the pageant when her name was announced.
Each dance has a five-minute limit; competitors are judged on accuracy, timing, rhythm, showmanship and speed. Young said she didn’t feel like she had put on a performance worthy of advancing to the second round, which she had never achieved in the past.
But she went out to have fun.
“We barely made it in time and I was surprised,” Young said. “I didn’t think my first performance was going to be so great. I mean, it went pretty well, so…”
Denipah said she thinks Young’s time in other sports has kept her fit and likely helped her maintain the coordination needed to perform. Youngsters occasionally dance at public events and on weekends at The Plaza with the rest of the Lightning Boy band.
This constant action – in addition to participating in all these other sports – has come in handy when competing. Young didn’t flinch in the Arizona heat early in the Finals.
“It’s like trying to jump rope for a minute,” Denipah said. “It’s really rigorous. So I have to imagine in some ways all of these activities that she does – whether it’s basketball, volleyball or even softball – it helps a bit, at least from a conditioning standpoint, because she’s so upright. She can last five minutes.
As Young progressed, excitement and nervousness grew within the family. Denipah said she could tell her daughter “was in her head” in the second round, but she still made it to the final. After that, Young just relaxed. When she was announced as the winner of the teenage division, Denipah said she was very proud not only of her but also of Gray because they danced in honor of Nakotah LaRance.
Steve LaRance said it was an emotional moment as it capped off a weekend that was a tribute to an entire family.
“We were honored that they honored Nakotah and her contributions to the world,” Steve said. “Then for my granddaughter to come away with the Teenage Championship was just kind of a gift. You know, a blessing.
Upon her return to Santa Fe, she returned to softball, where she is one of New Mexico’s top Class 3A pitchers. Young pitched a perfect game for the Lady Braves in a 15-0 victory over Raton on March 29 – the first in program history. She followed that up by striking out 31 batters in a St. Michael’s double sweep on April 2. She’s 3-1 on the mound this season, with a 1.06 ERA and 83 strikeouts — Class 3A highs.
Young said she hasn’t thought about her college plans yet, preferring to focus on the present.
“I mean, the future will be here regardless,” Young said.
The day before her performance of 31 retirees, Young had the chance to dazzle as a hoop dancer at a gallery exhibition for late artist DeAnna Autumn Leaf Suazo at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. She said the past few weeks had been dizzying, but she was less focused on the pressure of performance and more focused on fun.
As much as hoop dancing is a bonding family bond, she said she finds joy in the sport – especially softball, in which she has competed since she was 5.
“I just try to make it all just for fun and not put too much pressure on myself and just to play,” Young said. “Go out there and play like you love sports.”
Yet few athletes can also attach “world hoop dance champion” to their CV. And can any of them say they missed a flight on the way?