C&I talks with Arizona-based photographer Joanna Proffitt about capturing the action of hoop dancing.
The work of photographer Joanna Proffitt came to our attention when we profiled 2019 world champion hoop dancer Cody Boettner in our January 2020 issue. Proffitt, whose photography focuses on mainly on landscape, nature, and wildlife, has been capturing the action at the hoop dancing championships since 2018 and will be there behind the lens this year at the 30th Annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest February 8 – 9 at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.
Cowboys & Indians: When and how did you get into photography?
Joanna Proffitt: I studied photography years ago in college but didn’t pursue it seriously back then. Years later, after receiving a digital camera as a gift and after getting my first phone equipped with a camera, I began to make images more regularly again. After seeing work on display at a local gallery almost five years ago, I thought I might also be able to exhibit. I submitted my first entry to a juried show and got accepted (beginner’s luck!) and the rest is history.
C&I: How did you get introduced to hoop dancing?
Proffitt: I moved to the Southwest in early childhood and grew up in Glendale, Arizona. The World Championship Hoop Dance Contest takes place every year in Phoenix, Arizona, close to where I live. I attended the contest for the first time in 2018 and was enamored of the skill, beauty, and culture of it all. The colorful regalia worn by the dancers makes for a great image! I was instantly hooked. I have photographed the contest for the last two years and plan on attending the event in 2020.
C&I: What led you to want to photograph hoop dancing?
Profitt: Initially I think I was drawn to the bright and beautiful regalia worn by the participants. After experiencing the dancing, I developed a great respect and appreciation for the culture and history. The Heard Museum describes hoop dancing as “an athletic art form” and that is an accurate description. The amount of talent and creativity that goes into each performance is amazing. I like to refer to it as “art in motion.”
C&I: What are the challenges of capturing the fast and complex action?
Proffitt: As with anything fast moving, a fast shutter speed needs to be used if you want to freeze the action. An event like this also requires that you make a lot of images since you can’t really tell what you are capturing as you go along — things are simply moving too quick.
C&I: What is it about the hoop dance and the dancers that you are specifically hoping to capture?
Proffitt: I aim to capture a bit of the magic that one experiences when watching them perform.
C&I: What camera do you typically use?
Proffitt: I have a Canon DSLR and I also use my iPhone.
C&I: Generally speaking, what do you hope to convey in the photos to people who haven’t seen hoop dancing live, in person?
Proffitt: I hope people develop a respect for different cultures and art forms and an appreciation for experiencing and/or learning about something new. If, after viewing my photographs, they also find that they want to attend a hoop-dancing event, then that is a win for everyone.
C&I: What are some stories behind some of your favorite hoop-dancing images?
Proffitt: Some of my favorite hoop-dancing photographs are of dancers waiting to, or watching others, perform. I have more time to compose the image in this situation and can make a more detailed portrait type shot. One such image, titled Kookum’s Beadwork will be exhibited in 2020 as part of an exhibition In Celebration of Women. The exhibit celebrates the centennial of the passing of the 19th Amendment, Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day. All the artists participating in this show are women whose subjects are also female. It will be on view at The Herberger Theater Gallery from March 6, 2020 through April 26, 2020, and then at the Arizona State Capitol Museum from May 14, 2020 through September 30, 2020.
C&I: Tell us a little bit about Cody Boettner and photographing his dancing.
Proffitt: When I photographed Cody in 2019, I had no idea he would go on to win the adult title that year. Mostly, I start photographing dancers when I see something visually appealing, and then I wait to see where it goes from there. Cody is extremely talented and one of his gifts is making it look effortless when in reality it is anything but.
C&I: The shot we used in the magazine — when you look at it as the photographer who took it, what do you see that you’d like others to notice?
Proffitt: Looking at the still image, it’s easy to forget that the dancers are only holding these poses for a second or two before they move on to the next thing. Freezing the action allows people to truly appreciate how complex and difficult what the dancers are doing is. By my count, in that image, Cody is using 14 hoops at once. FOURTEEN! And he is taking them apart and putting them together with great speed, all while keeping time with the live drumming. It is truly awe-inspiring and something I would highly recommend everyone try to see at least once.
Visit Joanna Proffitt Photography at joannaproffitt.com. The 30th Annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest kicks off Friday February 7, 6 – 10 p.m.; the contest takes place Saturday February 8 and Sunday February 9 at the Heart Museum in Phoenix; find more information at heard.org.
Photography: Courtesy Joanna Proffitt