photo courtesy of artist

Jones Benally Family Dancers

Navajo hoop dancing Black Mesa, Arizona
Photo Credit: photo courtesy of artist
photo courtesy of artist

World Champion hoop dancer and traditional healer Jones Benally, his daughter Jeneda, son Clayson, and two young grandchildren form the Jones Benally Family Dancers. These three generations together bring the beauty and healing power of Navajo (Diné) culture to educate and uplift audiences around the globe. The Benally Family will give the National Folk Festival an unparalleled introduction to Navajo music and dance.

Navajo dance is a sacred tradition encompassing a wide variety of forms, all of which aim to heal the body, mind, or spirit. These ceremonies are led by the haatali (“singer”), a role that encompasses singing, dancing, and healing. When presented outside the Navajo community, these dances are modified for public viewing, but they retain their deep capacity to move hearts and minds. The family’s emotive vocals and chanting, along with rhythmic accompaniment on traditional instruments like hand drum and rattle, amplify the ceremonial mood. The Benallys’ repertoire of dances includes traditional forms like the gourd dance, eagle dance, feather dance, and friendship dance. The hoop dance is always a highlight, as audiences marvel at the phenomenal natural figures and shapes Jones, as well as Clayson, can evoke so fluidly with five, nine, a dozen, or more hoops.

Jones Benally is a respected haatali and elder of the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona. He learned from his father and grandfather, both haatali before him, starting with hoop dances, which are an integral part of the ceremonies. For many decades he has excelled as a performer and educator strengthening appreciation for Navajo culture among pan-Native and non-Native audiences. His skill as a hoop dancer has won him worldwide acclaim and multiple world champion titles, and he was also featured as a singer in the 1993 film Geronimo. In 2013, he received the first Hoop Dance Legacy Award from the Heard Museum in Arizona, home to the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest. In his own community in the Navajo Nation, he works as a healer. He was among the first traditional medical practitioners to be employed by a Western medical facility, work he did for over 20 years.

Jeneda and Clayson Benally have performed with their father for nearly four decades. Inspired by both Jones’ musical talents and passion for Native rights, they have also made their mark as the Native American Music Award-winning “alter-Native” punk band Blackfire. The siblings also perform as the duo Sihasin (“hope”), and mix Navajo and folk/punk sounds, sometimes featuring their father Jones as a prominent guest artist. Jeneda’s children Dyatihi, age 12, and Deezhchiil, age nine, are the next generation to take up the family legacy of Navajo music and dance.

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