I first saw people hoop dancing at Shakori Hills, found their classes and started taking lessons, and then had my first professional gig. That was July 2005, and now it’s later, and my, how we have grown! I have 50+ hoops dangling from hooks in the ceiling, and I teach hoop classes in the area, and I dance with fire, and my sister gave me an LED hoop for my birthday. Who knows where this is going to go? At least as far as YouTube: Hooping at Clydefest. Gene Galin, publisher of the Chatham Journal, shot the footage at Clydefest in Bynum in late April. Not a bad use of three minutes.
Why it’s “hoop dance” and not “hula hooping”
About the term “hula:” When I talk about “hoop dance,” I often get a blank look. I sometimes have to say “hula hooping,” and then people know what I’m talking about. The hoop community is working to move away from the “hula” label; it actually belongs to a culture that doesn’t actively practice any form of dancing with plastic rings, per se. The Wham-O toy company used the word when it introduced its toys in the last century, but the hoops in use today are different from those. That’s my friend John Hogan on the left, and Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller on the right. Randy’s hooping the Big Blue, my 6′ hoop. I tell the kids you have to weigh 100# to hoop it.
Why you can hoop now, if you couldn’t before
I often take hoops to parties where I’m on the guest list and have taught many people that they CAN hoop, regardless their past experience or current athletic ability. Hoops range from 24″ (for hand hooping) up to a big six-footer that is hard to get going but is actually the easiest of them all to keep going. Some people will look at me askance and say, “I never could do this before…” and I say, “the technology has changed,” and often that’s enough to get someone in a hoop, and once he or she’s in, the magic can happen. In truth, the hoops we use today are larger and heavier than the ones many adults used when they were younger, and perhaps counterintuitively, much easier to hoop.
/*start geekspot*/ For people who like the physics:
L = mvr
A larger R and a larger M means the hoop needs quite a bit less V to have more than adequate L to keep circling./*end geekspot*/
One fact: a recent knee MRI suggests strongly that I give up any thoughts of jumping through flaming hoops, so one segment of hoop tricks (which I didn’t enjoy much anyway) is now off limits.
Receiving an MP3 player as a gift for Christmas made a huge difference in my hooping. It’s loaded with a variety of music, from classic rock to real classics, and most days I put it on “random” and let it go. If I’m not in the mood for a particular song, I skip ahead until I find something better. I also created a few playlists: Classic Rock, Blues, Bluegrass, World, and Classics. When I’m practicing, I dance in a parking lot not far from people who work shifts at the local factories and I don’t think they really need Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll late at night.
Hooping at Your Event
Angular Momentum Hooping is available to bring participatory hooping to outdoor events, such as the Goldsboro High School Class of ’76 Reunion, where three generations of people played with hoops during a Saturday afternoon cookout. We travel with a generous supply of extra-large hoops that are perfect for people who haven’t hooped in years. (Bigger is easier; most people can hoop with a hoop that is at least as wide as they are tall at shoulder height. Very few people over 75# can hoop with a store-bought hoop.) Stock and custom hoops are available for purchase. Balloon twisting, balloon hats, and general clowning (in funny clothes or full clown wardrobe and makeup) can be arranged through my friend John Hogan, working as Ubi the Clown (online at ubitheclown.com).
A few examples of places we’ve taken the hoops:
- Clydefest in Pittsboro
- Sanford Boys & Girls Club
- RootzieFest music festival
- Political campaign kickoff parties
- Garden parties and picnics
- Jazz Festival
- Senior Center (demo and participation)
- Pittsboro’s First Sunday Street Fair
- High school reunion
- Family reunion
- Wayne County Fair
- 4th of July Festival
- Community celebrations
Hooping in a Parade
I hooped in a parade for the first time at the Goldboro Jaycee’s 4th of July Parade and Festival in downtown Goldsboro, NC, in 2007. The gig came to me through Ubi the Clown and I thought it would be fun; didn’t think too much more about it until the night before and then I wished I had prepared a little better. My thoughts on parade hooping:
First, sparkles and costumes matter. I discovered, far too late, that I didn’t OWN anything in Red, White, and Blue, and the best I could do out of my own hooping wardrobe was a light blue sleeveless shirt. For a 4th of July parade in the US South, that wasn’t going to do. Fortunately, John had a red t-shirt he could donate to the cause and I cut the sleeves off to facilitate shoulder hooping. I will be shopping for costumes between now and next year’s parade. Sparkles and sequins would be fun, too, and would blend in perfectly in a parade. A troupe of dance students had mylar pompoms and sequin trim, several parade-units behind me.
2008 costuming note: Hoop Wear for Grownups!!
Next, a sparkly hoop would have been a good investment. I used John’s Ubi-hoop, large, water-filled, with some sparkly tape. But had I planned better, I could have made a red, white and blue sparkly hoop. My own dance hoop, taped in silver and gold and black, was too small to hoop and walk for the 1.5 miles of the parade route. Which brings me to the next topic:
Hoop size: Big. Bigger is easier (you know this, if you’re even thinking of hooping in a parade, on foot (can’t speak to hooping on a float). I tested my extra-large, heavy hoop (1″, 160 PSI tubing) hoop, but that was heavier than I wanted to use for an hour straight. I decided on the Ubi-hoop because it was the only one of my larger hoops that had sparkly tape. It worked. I probably didn’t need the water for my own hooping. It’s roughly 60″ in diameter, made of 1″, 100 PSI tubing.
Marching: Well, it’s not really “marching,” per se. And do what you can to NOT line up behind the motorcycle troupe. You don’t need the fumes… I started off waist hooping, and did fine for a few blocks. Then I realized my hips were taking a beating, with the extra swivel required to hoop and walk at the same time. (I was already committed to hooping through the Street Festival that followed the parade, 12-4 pm, and therefore couldn’t risk injury or exhaustion.) I started shoulder hooping, and doing lift-return to shoulder-lift with opposite hand-repeat, and that worked MUCH better. Wish I’d started it from the beginning!! Shoulder hooping took the stress off my hips and freed my legs to keep up with the vehicles ahead of me, while still looking good to the crowd.
In the Goldsboro parade, there was a lot of interaction with the crowd. I didn’t know the details about the festival to follow, so I couldn’t tell people exactly where to come after the parade for free hoop lessons. It might have been helpful to have that information ahead of time. They found me downtown anyway, and we had a crowd hooping before very long. That’s some of the people from the parade in the photo above.
Thinking about Hooping
To a large extent, the popularity of hooping across the country today is a result of internet communication, which lets relatively isolated groups of people learn what’s happening in far-off places. Almost 1000 hoopers read the Hula Hooping list on hooping.tribe.net; my own class in Carrboro sponsors the Hoop Path, a much more focused discussion. I’ve extracted some of my posts from that list here.
The Partner and the Critic
Thinking a bit more about the idea of hooping being partner dancing–which for me it is, only there’s no tension the way I’ve seen it when taking ballroom lessons, or in a contra line. There’s no discussion about who’s on beat or not; who turned the wrong way, whether the lead was clear enough. The hoop simply is where it is, and I’m either there where it needs me to be, or not.
And right next to me is an ever-vigilant critic–gravity. No judgement, no comment–just a hoop on the ground. Do over.
(Note: Jon Baxter and Vivian Hancock, who teach the hoop class I take in Carrboro, have encouraged their students to hoop in both directions from the beginning. The more contact I have with hoopers around the country, the more rare this skill becomes. It is tricky in the beginning, but as I tell my students now, the beginning is the best place to be awkward, because NOTHING feels right. When you learn to hoop both ways, you double the number of tricks you have from the get-go. We also think it balances both the brain and the body, but that’s hard to prove.)
Was thinking on bi-lateral hooping yesterday, and it struck me that I can’t think of anything else in my life that will support complete bilateral mastery.
The first problem is that to get both sides equally trained and fluent, I pretty much have to start from zero. Not like I’m going to start writing left-handed now just for the exercise. (I do touch type, and that’s bilateral.) But the second issue is that there just isn’t a whole lot in the world that ALLOWS one to be bilaterally equivalent. Gymnastics and ballet; too old for those now. Skateboarding–need a park.
Chainsaws are “handed.” Ballroom dancing sets up one way; ditto for most other partnered dance that I can think of. I guess maybe piano falls in the same category as keyboards, but stringed instruments are “handed.” None of them use your legs much.
Anything else that’s “whole body” and bilateral? (One reply suggested “swimming.” Perhaps. Don’t swim a whole lot at this point in my life.)
Last night, I was working on the step-through we learned in class two weeks ago. My drill is simply to do 20 repeats, 20 each hand, and let my body learn on its own time. I’m over the worst of bonking myself in the head, but it’s far from ready for prime time, and then only on a big hoop, not my normal dance hoop.
But I got good enough to think I wanted to try through-and-back-again on the next loop, and wow, is that ever a different trick! Instead of simply making it through the hoop to the other side, I now have to think about where my foot lands and how I’m balanced, and what I’m doing with the catching hand so the hoop’s ready for the next step, and not just circling out in space until I regain control.
Interesting feeling to realize I had only the barest understanding of the movement. I’m reading Extraordinary Golf: the Art of the Possible, by Fred Shoemaker, as part of my morning meditation. Don’t play golf, likely never will, and can’t recall how this book entered my collection. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read about paying attention to what you are doing, and why you are doing it.
Thinking then on last night’s kickoff conversation, and what Fred says about noticing what you’re doing and what’s happening (he calls it “extroversion,” because for so many people “introversion” is simply a repeat of stale old failure-based tapes), and something I’ve come back to in my practice–repetition.
When I first started learning the lift, I would make 10 attempts… then work till I had 10 successful attempts… then 10 each current, each hand. Then I got away from that, and just danced. Lately, I’ve been trying for 20 successful “tricks” (actual content varies), straight–no break, no extra loops, just straight through. Every time my mind wanders–look! I made 12 … can I make … ” oops! And on the ones that work, I find myself thinking: “Hmm… does that feel better on my middle finger, or on my thumb? WHAT am I doing at that point in the lift? … How am I passing from hand to hand?” Attention, in other word(s).
Not quite the same thing on those tricks that require more strength than I have at the moment–straight leg lifts being one, ditto back-leaning angle hooping. Quickly get to where my muscles rebel. In time, this will change.
It’s much harder to pay that much attention when I’m “just dancing.” Suspect it’s an isolation thing–reduce the # of varibles, and I can get a little deeper into the motion. Will be interesting to see how this changes over time.
Suspect other dancers have encountered a similar issue with practicing that I noticed last night, and it wasn’t the first time. It’s not quite boredom, but I did notice that I lost focus and quit at the first opportunity, rather than dancing for the full hour my schedule allowed. How do you structure your practice?
- I probably ought to do a bit more formal warm-up and focus exercise, which is Point and Samurai, and I haven’t been doing that.
- I could stand to do more deliberate “trick” practice—shoulders, legs, angle.
But when you’re done with that, and in “free dance,” how do you stay out of doing what you know well, and push into new stuff, when you have the music calling to keep moving?
Don’t know if this is translating into words very well. I used to take voice lessons. Became very frustrated because all we ever did in a session was sing a song straight through, very rarely stopping to learn a tricky bit or taking it apart and working out the difficult places enough to master them. So I was left with mastery of easy stuff, and frustration with anything that was a bit harder than “easy,” and before very long, I found other things to spend my money on and quit taking lessons.
I don’t think I’m going to quit hooping any time soon, but sometimes I have a similar experience. Some bit of music will play, and I kinda want to do something different and maybe it works or maybe not, but it’s gone and I don’t really have it mastered, and I think maybe there’s a different approach I haven’t figured out yet.
I’ve written about everything I’ve learned in making hoops in this article.
The online source for hooping information is www.hooping.org, a compendium of articles and links to hooping around the world. Many videos can be reached through this site. It is fairly tightly moderated and the information that does get posted is generally reliable and reasonably family-friendly.
The most active discussion groups for the hooping community are found at www.hooping.tribe.net. Several communities focus on hooping, including hula hooping, the Hoop Path, fire hooping, and others. Although this board is moderated, there is little restriction on what gets posted and the video links and discussions are not always child-friendly.