"It just really shows him in his prime and what people know him for," Nizhoni Denipah said of her brother Nakotah LaRance's performance at the 2013 Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest. Video: Lizard Light Productions

'He made people smile in awe': Celebrated hoop dance champion Nakotah LaRance passes on

Tributes are pouring in from Indian Country following the passing of Nakotah LaRance, a champion Pueblo, Hopi, Navajo and Assiniboine hoop dancer whose performances and bright attitude brought joy to audiences throughout the world.

Nakotah died on Sunday at Ohkay Owingeh, a Pueblo community in northern New Mexico. He was just a few weeks shy of his 31st birthday.

"We are heartbroken," older sister Nizhoni Denipah told Indianz.Com on Monday. "He passed yesterday in a tragic accident."

Nakotah LaRance: August 23, 1989 - July 12, 2020

Nakotah began hoop dancing at a young age, having been encouraged by his family to carry on a tradition maintained by numerous tribes in the U.S. and Canada. His father, Steve LaRance, a Hopi and Assiniboine silversmith, has always been one of his biggest champions.

"He is most widely known for his accomplishments in the world of Hoop Dance, a magician of hoops," the elder LaRance wrote in a social media post on Sunday evening. "He would make people forget their sorrows, and bring both smiles and tears of joy with the magic of his hoop dance."

The strong support led Nakotah to great achievements. He was a six-time title winner of the World Championship of Hoop Dance, which opened doors for him to share his talents with audiences far and wide. In addition to performing all over the U.S., he toured with the famed Cirque Du Soleil troupe.

"Nakotah touched people around the world," said Denipah, a physician.

U.S. Mission Geneva: Hoop Dancing: A Celebration of Life

Among the many that shared in Nakotah's joy was the U.S. Mission in Geneva, Switzerland. Then-Ambassador Keith Harper, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and his wife, Shelby Settles Harper, a citizen of the Caddo Nation, welcomed a group of hoop dancers to the U.S. embassy there in July 2014.

"One of the inspiring things about this is this is about passing on sacred and beautiful dance from older generations to younger generations," Ambassador Harper said at the time, reflecting on Nakotah's role not just as a performer but as an instructor for the Pueblo of Pojoaque Youth Hoop Dancers.

"You filled us with pride when you visited a Geneva, Switzerland and shared the hoop dance with people from all over the world," Shelby added in a tribute to Nakotah on Monday. A second cultural performance, featuring Nakotah and other dancers, took place at the embassy in July 2016.

Closer to home, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in New Mexico hosted several of Nakotah's hoop dance performances. He was due to participate in an event at the facility, located in Santa Fe, the state capital, this week.

"We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Nakotah 'Lomasohu' LaRance," the museum said on Monday, referring to Nakotah's Hopi name, which means "Handsome Star."

"We were honored to host Nakotah and the LaRance family on several occasions," the museum said. "We extend our love and our sincere condolences to the LaRance family."

American Indian Cultural Performance The U.S. Mission sponsored a celebration of American Indian music and dance at the...

Posted by U.S. Mission Geneva on Friday, July 8, 2016

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Florida, owned by the Seminole Tribe, said it was "heartbroken" to learn of Nakotah's passing. He had performed at the facility's American Indian Arts Celebration in 2014, 2016 and 2018, "where he dazzled our audience with his powerful hoop dance demonstrations."

"He was an incredibly talented, kind soul who left a mark on all those who had the pleasure of meeting him," Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki said in a post on social media on Monday.

The Phoenix Indian Center in Arizona featured Nakotah at its annual Silver and Turquoise Ball in 2016, He "stole the show" by combining traditional hoop dance moves with those inspired by hip-hop culture, a post read.

"He made people smile in awe," the center said on Monday.

The Phoenix Indian Center sends our condolences to the family of Nakotah LaRance. Nakotah’s talent brought much joy to...

Posted by Phoenix Indian Center on Monday, July 13, 2020

Mindful of COVID-19 pandemic protocols, Nakotah's family is laying their loved one to rest in a traditional Hopi and Pueblo manner. A public memorial will be scheduled sometime in the future, his father said on Sunday.

"His love of life was infectious. He was an individual you could just meet, and be the best of friends 2 minutes later," his father wrote.

"Above all, he was the most kind hearted human being, with no hate in his heart, he would give you the clothes off his back," Steve LaRance said.

For those wishing to further Nakotah's legacy, donations cah be made to the Lightning Boy Foundation. The non-profit was established in honor of Valentino Tzigiwhaeno Rivera, a Pueblo of Pojoaque hoop dancer who passed away at the age of 8 in 2016. Valentino, known to family and friends as Tino, took part in the 2016 trip to the U.S Mission in Geneva.

Nakotah's survivors include:

• Steve LaRance, father
• Marian Denipah LaRance, mother
• Nizhoni Denipah, older sister
• Sonwai LaRance, younger sister
• Cree LaRance, younger brother
• Shade-Phea Young, niece

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we share the passing of our son and brother Nakotah LaRance. Lomasohu,...

Posted by Steve LaRance on Sunday, July 12, 2020

Additional Coverage / Tributes

It saddens everyone who had the pleasure to know Nakotah. Journey in peace and receive the embrace of our Ancestors.

Posted by Cliff Fragua on Monday, July 13, 2020

Late last night I found out that a good friend of mine, Nakotah “Lomasohu” LaRance passes away. My heart was in so much...

Posted by Dyami Thomas on Monday, July 13, 2020

I still can't believe this is real. It seems like yesterday when I would photograph you while you wowed thousands of...

Posted by Robert Mesa on Monday, July 13, 2020

Posted by Kaela Waldstein on Monday, July 13, 2020

One of the beautiful things about Hoop Dance is that you see past champions and their essence come out in the routines...

Posted by Shaliyah Ben on Monday, July 13, 2020

Really honored I got to see him perform and meet this man several times. I ALWAYS gave him the upmost respect for his...

Posted by Mark J Ortiz on Monday, July 13, 2020

The world lost a brilliant artist. Rest In Power Nakotah “Lomasohu” LaRance of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. He was, and always...

Posted by Leland Chapin on Sunday, July 12, 2020

RIP Nakotah LaRance. The world has lost an incredibly talented person - World Champion Hoop Dancer, Actor, Performer for...

Posted by Donna Decontie Brown on Monday, July 13, 2020

Many friends and family have been reaching out on how to show your support for Nakotah and his loved ones. At this time...

Posted by Fans of Nakotah LaRance on Monday, July 13, 2020

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