Kayla Anderson photos
Diego Pittman performs for the crowd before the fireworks show on Friday night during Armed Forces weekend.

On the Friday evening of Armed Forces Day weekend, a bit after dusk, Hawthorne local Diego Pittman dazzled the crowd with his Native American Hoop & Fire Dancing performance.

He sometimes had 20 hoops spinning around him during his AFD performance, creating shapes that represent nature. He did an eagle dance with five hoops, then with seven, and then with all twenty spreading a few out amongst his legs and eleven of them across his back and arms. He formed a clover, a couple of snakes, ladders, and a sphere that represents the world as well as a lot of hoops bunched up around his waist like the bustle of a chicken.

“Originally, the hoop dance was done with only one hoop that signifies the never-ending circle of life. But it in the times of Buffalo Bill Cody and the Wild West Show, Natives were encouraged to fancy up their steps by adding more hoops,” Pittman says.

Pittman grew up in Mineral County, coming to the area when he was six, and used to sell newspapers at the post office while he was in high school. He became interested in hoop dancing five or six years ago, when he went to Camp Fleischmann near Chester, California, on a Boy Scouts retreat. Pittman watched two dancers perform a fire hoop dance during the closing campfire and was amazed.

“The dancers put on a great show and the whole event was unlike anything I had seen before. It’s been a tradition at that camp for over 30 years since a man named Jeffery started to bring the culture to the camp. He had been dancing since his youth and would often teach younger people how to dance and go around performing at powwows around Nevada and bordering states,” Pittman says.

In his biography to the Armed Forces Day Committee, Pittman said that he ended up working with Jeffery years later, who was kind enough to teach him how to dance and let Pittman be a part of his group.

“We worked together, and I learned how to hoop dance with 12 hoops as well as with the fire hoop and I had the honor of performing it with him on multiple occasions. I later taught myself how to add eight more hoops to the 12-hoop dance to make it a total of 20,” he said.

His own personal Native American heritage stems from both of his parents. From his mother he has a bit of Mexica Aztec, Mayan, and Chichimeca in him; from his father he inherited some Cherokee and Iowa Tribe of Kansas blood.

For the Armed Forces Day performance, Pittman says that he learned 11 hoop dances. It took him five days to get the routine down, practicing every day for 8-9 hours a day. It took him another two weeks to get the fire dancing performance down. He made his own outfit for the AFD event, consisting of an intricate bone chest plate, dangling beads, leather, leggings, and moccasins. He admits that it took longer to source the materials than it did to put the outfit together, but that there is a lot of significance in the costume, too.

“The beads are African trade beads that settlers would trade with the Native Americans for hides. Native Americans were amazed by the glass, they had never seen anything like that before. Some of the beads used in Native American dress are 800-1,000-year-old beads that aren’t made anymore.”

When asked how he felt performing in front of a thousand or so people during AFD, Pittman responds, “I’ve never performed in front of that many people before. It was nerve-wracking but exciting. It felt cool being able to share this Native American tradition with so many people.”

Judging from the crowd, Pittman’s performance was well received, and regarded as one of the highlights of the weekend as well as paying homage to Native American tradition.

“Dancing has led me to living a more peaceful, spiritual, and accepting life. We dance to heal, we dance to pray, we dance to tell stories, and we dance for our ancestors. That’s all I want to continue to do with my dancing. Eventually I’d like to pass it on to another to help keep the traditions and dances of our culture alive,” Pittman adds.