PHOENIX — Talon Ree Duncan had a good semifinals and leads the teen division by 5 points, but there’s still one more round before he can call himself the 2016 world champion hoop dancer.
Duncan, 17, is calm and collected as the finals get underway. The division is tough: Only three dancers made it to this round.
His brother paints a thick red line across Duncan’s cheekbones and over his nose. The look, inspired by his San Carlos Apache and Hidatsa heritage, is meant to recall war paint.
“And I save it for my final round because that’s the round I want to feel like a warrior,” he says.
As the announcer calls his name over the loudspeaker, Duncan walks to the sandy center of a grassy amphitheater. He arranges 10 hoops in a circular pattern on the ground and nods when he’s ready to begin.
Duncan is thin for his 6 foot 2 frame. Despite his lankiness, when the drumbeat starts, his body moves gracefully to the rhythm. One by one, he kicks up the hoops with his feet, jumping through them and spinning them on his arms. As the song continues, the moves get more complicated. He forms shapes like a butterfly by stringing all 10 hoops on his body. Then without missing a beat, he moves them all up his torso and into his hands to form a sphere.
His parents watching anxiously in the audience. “It is so exciting to see your children excel at something that they enjoy so much,” says his mother, Doreen Duncan.
Still, watching the competition is hard. “I get crazy nervous,” she says.