What is hoopdance?
“Hoopdance,” also called “hooping,” is an emerging dance form which uses a hoop, similar to the “hula-hoop” of days past, to explore rhythm and space.
Hoopdance is also one of the most accessible of the “flow arts.”
What are the “flow arts”?
The flow arts are the forms of object manipulation in which a practitioner moves sphere-based objects (among them hoop, poi, staff, contact ball, clubs, flow wand, and buugeng) through space along their spiral- and infinity-shaped paths. The practice of following these objects through space tends to awaken practitioners into the “flow state”–a state of being in which the full attention–including heart, mind and body–is brought together into a single active and ongoing moment.
“A peaceful practice with many of the healthful benefits of Martial Arts, Flow Arts
improves patience, balance, confidence, dexterity, focus, coordination, body awareness,
and self-esteem. It also enhances spatial skills and promotes brain plasticity.
The concept of Flow Arts is simple: learn to move in harmony with an inanimate object so
that it becomes an animated extension of your body….With enough practice, you can learn
to flow with almost anything. Staffs, hoops, batons and even spheres all make wonderful
dance partners and teachers once you’ve grasped each tool’s unique dynamics. The basic
techniques are easy to pick up, but the adaptations are infinite, allowing for wide
variation in personal style and expression. In the rapidly growing Flow Arts community
there is still ample opportunity to make and share novel discoveries.”
Read more about the flow state in this Wikipedia article.
Is that a hula-hoop?
Yes and no. Most hoops made for dancing adults are much larger and heavier than mass-produced hula-hoops, which are made for young children’s bodies. However, after time and practice, one can “size down” the hoop in order to increase speed, levity, and challenge. The result, after years of practice, may be a hoop as small as the mass-produced toy hoops. Large hoops like the ones available on this site (through NC hoopmakers Synergy Flowarts) are handmade. On the Resources page you can also learn how to make your own handmade hoops at home.
How is hoopdance different from “hula” hooping?
Hula-hooping grew out of the kids’ toy developed by Wham-O in the late 1950s, which was named the “hula” hoop because the motion required to keep the hoop spinning around the waist was reminiscent of the native Hawaiian hula dance. Hula-hooping flourished as a test of endurance, generating competitions based on waist-hooping for hours. Some hoop tricks emerged out of this popularity, and multiple-hoop acts appeared regularly in circus performances.
However, none of these early physical feats involving the hoop incorporated dance. Hobbyist hula-hoopers and trained circus hoopers alike stood stock still, planting both feet and using the body as a static axis for the hoop’s rotation. Even if the arms were occasionally incorporated as axes for the spinning hoop, the body played a subordinate role, serving as a sort of post for the hoops to spin around.
Hoopdance began in the mid-90s, when a Boulder-based jam band called the String Cheese Incident started making large hoops (made for adult bodies ) out of irrigation tubing and passing them out at their shows. Festival attendees loved the slow, groovy sensation of these mega-hoops, and a handful of people got hooked. These people (among them Hoopalicious and Spiral) scattered the first seeds of the modern hoop movement.
** Not to be confused with the traditional Native American hoopdance, in which the dancer manipulates groups of small hoops into a wide range of metaphorical shapes and designs.
I could never hula-hoop as a kid. Can I really learn how now?
Unequivocally and emphatically, YES! I myself was utterly unable to hula-hoop as a child and dismissed it entirely until I encountered hoopdance at age 35.
Yes, but recently I tried my daughter’s/nephew’s/neighbor’s hula-hoop, and it just fell to the ground.
What probably happened was that you used a mass-produced toy hoop made for children’s bodies. An adult needs an adult-sized hoop. The ideal ratio for a beginner is a hoop that, when oriented vertically, reaches all the way up to your heart. So ideal hoop sizes for adult beginners will tend to range from 44 to 50 inches in diameter–i.e., much bigger than you think. And to add to your counter-intuition, YES, the bigger hoops are EASIER! They rotate more slowly than the tiny hoops (physics in action!) and are hence create a slower rhythm which is much easier for the body to understand and follow.
What is the right hoop size for me?
An adult beginner should start with a hoop that comes up to your heart when one end is standing on the floor. As you gain core skill and begin to itch for more challenge, you can gradually “size down” your hoop by inch increments. Many hoopers advocate that you navigate this process by feel. Go with the hoop size where you feel your edge. If you want to spend an entire year hooping exclusively with a massive, massaging, “gentle giant” hoop, well that is nobody’s business but your own! Try as best you can to ignore “shoulding” yourself into a smaller hoop than you feel comfortable with. Remember–spin time is eternal. And you have plenty of it.
Can you teach me how to do [insert trick here]?
Quite possibly, but I (like the great Carolina basketball coach, Dean Smith) teach a curriculum based in fundamentals, designed to expand and deepen your overall relationship to your hoop as you dance with it. I teach the elements of moves as opposed to “tricks”–which are actually a whole lot of elements linked together. My experience shows that this approach not only opens hoopdance more readily to hoopers of all skill levels, but it also staves off the frustration and “plateau”-ing that can drain your personal practice.
Can you do a bunch of hoops at one time?
Because I practice hoopdance primarily as movement meditation, I usually dance with one hoop at a time. Occasionally I dance with two hoops, also known as “twins” or “doubles.” I also spin “mini-twins” or “minis,” much smaller hoops about half the diameter of a regular hoop.
What is “flight time”?
Flight time is a HoopPath term that indicates the life of your hoopdance in hours (as opposed to months or years). This is a really useful distinction because there are learning curves and experiences that tend to fall within the first 25 hours or flight time, others that fall within the 25-50 range, and still others that tend to happen after the 50th hour of flight time, and so on. Flight time is one way of understanding the nature of your relationship with your hoop, and understanding the limits you might encounter within a given time framework.
How can I contact Ann?
How did you get into hooping?
In the summer of 2005, in Carrboro, North Carolina, I was walking by our neighborhood food co-op and caught sight of a cute guy doing what I instinctively recognized to be a sacred dance with what I thought of at the time as a hula-hoop. My brain short-circuited, I stopped in my tracks, and the rest, as they say, is history. (**see full story here)
Who was the cute guy?
The guy I saw dancing so beautifully was Jonathan Baxter, the founder of the HoopPath, our community’s first meditation-based hoopdance curriculum. Baxter (as he is affectionately known) is one of the most creative and influential hoopdancers ever to grace the hoop scene, and also one of the first men to fully embrace hoopdance as a mode of expression. He was my teacher for four wonderful years, and I have benefited more than words could ever express from his impassioned and unique guidance.
Where can I find other hoopers in my area?
Hooping.org: Our most venerable hoopstitution– bringing hoopers together since 2003! Find out about everything that’s happening in the world of hoops–this site is consistently updated with any and all online articles pertaining to hoopdance, and discussion forums linking you to hoopers all over the world!
Also, Canada’s Hoopcity, another networking space for hoopers, has this nifty tool you can use to find hoopers near you!
What hoop/flow retreats should I go to?
This is a tough question, but the short answer is that ALL hoop and spin retreats are wonderful–you really cannot go wrong when you’re hanging with spinners!
However, the hoop retreat dearest to my own heart is the retreat I helped to bring into being, the HoopPath Retreat in my home state of North Carolina. Entirely dedicated to the practice and teaching of hoop meditation, this retreat stands out as a special family reunion of hoop meditators from far and wide. When we started the retreat in the summer of 2007, there were to no other hoop retreats anywhere in the world! We had 18 guests that year. The following year, we had 80. And today, it’s still going strong.
Another hoop retreat I have participated in for most of its life is the Sacred Circularities Hoopdance Retreat in Ubud, Bali. Another one-of-a-kind retreat, dreamed up and made into reality by my dear friend Jaguar Mary X, Sacred Circularities takes place on the enchanted island where a unique form of Hinduism has endured for hundreds of years. The power of the sacred, so closely observed in Balinese life, is a real presence here. You will feel it.
Sacred Circularities is also beginning a new retreat this year in beautiful Sedona, Arizona– and I will be teaching! I’m thrilled for the opportunity to participate in this newly transformed and transformative event. From October 13th-19th, 2013. Click here for more information about SC: Sedona.
A delightful retreat I have attended for many years as an instructor is Hoopcamp. It is just what it sounds like! Up in the Redwoods at a Buddhist retreat center, there are ample grounds for romping and hoopfun, and organic veggie food prepared on site. A smorgasbord of instructors and always a wide range of activities to choose from.
I was thrilled to teach for the first time in 2013 at another of our long-running hoop retreats, North Carolina’s own Hoop Convergence! Along with Hoopcamp and HoopPath, HoopCon was one of the only hoop retreats out there for a few years, and it has remained one of the crucibles of our enduringly tight-knit hoop community. It takes place at a lovely retreat center near the hoop hub of Carrboro, NC, and serves delicious local organic fare. Facilitated by the amazing duo behind HoopDrum, Scott Crews and Julia Hartsell Crews (who are also one half of Synergy Flowarts, this site’s hoop provider!), Hoop Convergence brings a special, down-home, unique flavor to the roster of hoop retreats.
Where do you get your awesome clothes?
All of the clothes I am wearing in the photos on this site are either upcycled, thrift-store, or from small independent sweatshop-free clothing companies like dervishgirl.com, leomdesigns.com, ompure.com, annieland.net, ipseitydesigns.com and phoenixrisingartists.com. A couple of pieces were handcrafted for me by my friend the fabulously talented Micah Blacklight of BlackSnow.
My favorite shoes for hooping are made by Camper. I love their Spiral boot! (sadly,no longer in production–but still available on sites like Zappos and Amazon). Another great company for hoop shoes is Merrell. The next wave is for shoe designers to start making and marketing shoes made expressly for hoopdance!
Do you do anything besides hooping to get your amazing abs?
Unless you count walking my dog, no. I commit 6-12 hours every week to my movement practice, which always includes some hoop work. These days I tend to work on balance, flexibility, and creative movement without the hoop as much as with it.
I have eight years of yoga training, which helped me learn about my body’s limits and how to work within them. My simple rule for my movement practice is that I do what feels good. A great deal falls under that definition.
I also gave up both alcohol and caffeine in the last couple of years (decisions rooted in feeling good) and that shift has contributed hugely to my body’s wellness.
You must have a dance background. What other forms of dance have you studied?
Prior to hooping, I had only the most incidental exposure to dance: one ballet class at age 9 (from which I ran screaming), a few weeks of Michael Jackson-inspired pop dance with friends at a community center in junior high, and a semester-long modern dance class in college–in which we spent roughly half our class time raising and lowering one foot from and back to the floor. I’m sure I’d love that class now, but at the time it made exactly no sense to me.
What is Spiral/Sphere Form?
Spiral or Sphere Form are working terms I use to describe the movement framework that is revealed through movement practice with any sphere-based object. A sphere-based object might be a sphere (contact ball), a circle (hoop), a line (staff), or some combination of these shapes (poi). These objects follow specific trajectories through space. When the human body and mind follow these trajectories in movement, certain organizational principles are revealed, chief among them being the self-organizing property of spin.
The spiral defines the motion of spin. Through movement with sphere-based objects, one may understand the motion of the spiral and integrate it into the body. Any two points may make a line, and any line can, through spin, become an axis. Using these concepts to guide movement, it is possible to find alignment along any meridian in the body.
How is your workshop different from your online classes?
My workshops begin, as my own first HoopPath class did, with guided movement meditation. There is a depth of inner connection that can come from following a guide in class that might elude a dancer in her personal practice, where busy thoughts can crowd up most or all of the available mindspace.
Another big difference in my live workshops is that I speak extemporaneously and offer brand-new exercises as well as tried and true methodologies. No two of my workshops are ever exactly alike. Because I maintain my own regular practice, I always have fresh material to share.
Your website is awesome! Did you do it yourself?
Thank you, and absolutely not! For this site, a year in the making, I called upon the talents of some truly amazing friends and cohorts:
Logo design: Heather Crosby, founder of YumUniverse where you (or, yu) can go to find the most scrumptious collection plant-based and gluten-free recipes ever!
Site construction: Gordon Zacharias
Photos: Anna Blackshaw freelance photojournalist and awesomeist.
Videography: all classes and promotional materials shot and edited Jaguar Mary X, founder of Sacred Circularities Hoopdance Retreat and purveyor of hoop magic.
Music: composed and performed by Elainiel Baldwin: percussionist, songcrafter, and also a gifted photographer.
Animation: created by Napoleon Wright of Pan II Creative.
Hoops: The amazing collaborative force known as Synergy Flowarts—which includes not only Julia Hartsell Crews and Scott Crews of HoopDrum but also Shakti Sunfire, and Rainbow Michael— is Line&Circle’s hoop provider. Synergy makes the soundest, roundest, and most reliable hoops in the biz. Feel so lucky to work with these guys!