An Odawa/Ojibwe from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, Lisa did not know she would win two world championships and six other hoop dancing titles across Canada and the United States.
Spinning a Web of SuccessWorld champion hoop dancer Lisa Odjig can slip her 5 foot 9 inch body
through a single hoop like a slender thread passing through the eye of a
Then, before you know it, she has added 2 or 3 more hoops to arms and
legs and she is spinning around, one foot always off the ground. The
routine may last for 8 or 9 minutes with Lisa’s foot touching the ground
for the last time at the exact moment the drummers strike the last beat
of the song.
Dancing is a “true blessing"
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Growing up, she could not predict that she would perform twice for Queen Elizabeth II and twice for the Prime Minister of Canada.
She had no notion she would ride on a float during the Calgary Stampede’s parade and then dance in front of thousands of people at the Stampede’s Grandstand show.
“It’s just so much fun and a true blessing,” Lisa says about hoop dancing. The stamina, strength, and flexibility she needs to be a winner means that “I need to be in balance and that I have to pray and work hard to keep that balance.”
In 1994, Lisa knew she wanted to be the best athlete she could.Six years later, her hardwork paid off when she won her first world championship.
“Winning World Champion hoop dancer was a dream come true,” she says. It put her at the top of the hoop dancing world.
Working as an artist
Before no smoking bans became common (not only on reserves but also across Canada), Lisa found herself in public places where people were smoking.
“I didn’t want to inhale the smoke, but there were many times when people nearby were blowing
smoke into the air.”
She recalls one time when she was backstage before an event. “I was sharing a dressing room and doing some stretches to get ready to go on stage, when another artist came into the room. He was smoking heavily.”
Lisa was shocked that he was smoking inside the building. “After a short while, I kindly asked him if he could just wait a few minutes until I was done performing. I mentioned that smoking was allowed outside and that the smoke was making me cough.” The person did not cooperate, saying instead, “This is my problem.”
Lisa replied, “I’m sorry to hear that.” Inside, she was thinking to herself—so please don’t make it mine; I’m trying to breathe.
After the dance ended that night Lisa says, “I felt upset over what had happened. It had been hard to breathe on stage and I felt the tightness in my throat from the second-hand smoke. Nothing else was to blame.”
Smoking and athletes
“I don’t understand it,” Lisa says. “I know there are athletes who smoke but wouldn’t that person perform better if they didn’t smoke?”
Like every young person in today’s world, Lisa had to decide whether to smoke cigarettes or not. She admits she was tempted. “I knew it was not good for my health, so I listened to an inner voice and I said to myself I would not do it. I blocked it out, really.” She said that growing up in a healthy home with parents who had good morals helped a lot.
With friends who smoke, Lisa says she “would never tell someone what to do with their life.” She has tried to encourage friends and those who want to listen. “I’m interested in giving them positive inspiration and support.”
Finding satisfaction today
In the spring of 2009, Lisa graduated from a two-year Tourism and Travel program at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto. She now works as a program associate at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.
Lisa says she works very hard at her job. She is glad she has reached her goals not only in sports but also in education.
“On some weekends in the summer, I like to go to pow-wows,” she says. She has performed at York University’s annual Aboriginal Days in Toronto. In November 2010, she won first place in the Women’s Fancy Shawl dance contest at an event in Hamilton, ON.
For 2011, she plans to do a good job in her workplace, stay healthy, and maintain balance in all four aspects of life: body, mind, spirit and feelings.
“I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to do the things I’ve done.”