Putting the Dance in Hoopdance
I enjoy studying many different kinds of dance. I find that every kind of dance informs and adds elements to my hoopdance. I take classes in everything I can, rent and buy videos, take workshops at festivals, ask my friends who take classes to show me things, watch videos and So You Think You Can Dance… Every kind of dance has an element you can borrow to make your own dance more dancey.
Dance is made up of a lot of things — lines, foot movements (or its big sister traveling steps), armwork (which can be further refined by adding handwork and even fingerwork), gestures, facial expression, directed gaze and characterization (inhabiting the character of a song). I recommend breaking these each up and studying them individually.
Another simple thing that makes a big difference is repetition. Doing the same movement — one, two, three, four times in a row — looks very dramatic and can be used to accentuate tempo also. Try doing a foot movement four times in a row, before switching to the same foot movement on the other side of the body four times in a row. Try doing an arm movement four times in row, then on the other side four times. Then repeat the arm movement but this time do a hand movement four times in a row for each arm movement. (Which means four arm movements will have 16 hand movements.) The cool thing about this is that it’s in 4×4 time — 16 beats or four counts of 4. Most Western music is in either 4×4 time (1,2.3.4 – 1,2,3,4 – 1,2,3,4 – 1,2,3,4…) or 3×3 time (1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3…like a waltz). Forget about your hoop and let other body parts set the timing. Once you start practicing movements four times in a row or three times in a row, you start to naturally and effortlessly fit those movements into the rhythm and into your flow. Also practice repetition with your hoop moves. Do a lift four times, an around the body pass four times, an isolation four times. These repetitions look very striking and can be used to punctuate music so that they, too, become a dance move.
This repetition thing is a big deal. I found, when I first started hoopdancing, that I would do string tricks together and I’d forget about dance. Then I got a mirror and I started to see the power of repetition. Then I’d be dancing without a mirror and I’d forget all about repetition again because I didn’t “see” the effect of it and it didn’t “feel” like I was doing anything (hooping wise). But when I started treating repetition like it was a trick or a hoop movement, and practicing it for its own sake, my hooping started to morph into hoopdance. It made such a difference. So treat practicing repetition like you would practicing a move — whether it’s four spins, four lifts and drops, or four arm movements. I’ve talked a bit about arm movements and footwork.
Another way to play with movement in these areas is to move the point of power. For example, do an arm movement and start the movement in the shoulder, then do it again only start the movement in the elbow, then do it again only start it in the wrist, finally do it again and let the fingertips lead. Feel how this changes each arm movement! Do the same with the legs. Start a leg movement in the hip flexor, then in the top of the thigh, then in the knee, then in the shin, then the heel, then in the top of the foot, then the toe. Totally different, right? (These concepts are what Modern Dance is based on.) Such subtle differences can make a big difference in how a move looks. Play around with them.
Play with levels. Stand up tall, go onto the toes, squat, go onto the knees, lie on the ground or jump in the air. Mix it up. Play with speeds. Go fast, go slow, Stop and freeze. Tempo changes keep things interesting. Set the tempo with your breathing. Breathe long and slow to slow down. If the tempo of the music speeds up and you don’t want to speed up, change the count in your head. If it’s 1,2,3,4 and the beat is fast, convert it in your head to 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. This way you are in control instead of the music. Study gestures and seek ways to consciously integrate them into your dance. Get dance inspiration from other sources as well. I love ‘So You Think You Can Dance’. They feature a lot of different kinds of dance by a lot of different kinds of choreographers and I find them an unending source of inspiration. Watch dance videos. Try to do Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Beat It or Bad while hooping. It’s silly and fun and you will find yourself picking up moves that actually look quite cool. Do the Macarana or the Hustle or the Swim, or Ride the Pony or the Funky Chicken (Julie, a hooper I met at Hoop Convergence totally rocks the Funky Chicken while hooping!) Try Moonwalking. Try every kind of dance you can think of. You never know what you’ll stumble upon that you really dig.
And perhaps the most important advice I can get you is use a mirror! If you don’t have a mirror, people on Craigslist give them away all the time. You can also practice in front of a sliding glass door. Watch yourself and create some pretty poses. Then move to other pretty poses. Observe how your body looks as you move from one to another. Take note of what really works and commit to practice that and add it to your hoopdance. Videotaping also works though it doesn’t give the instant feedback of a mirror. Still, it can be better for remembering exactly what you did in a move so you can practice it later. Finally, I want to say a word about directed gaze. Be conscious of where your eyes are. If you look to the side and down at the floor, it creates a lovely profile. If you let your gaze follow the hand that is moving, you appear engaged and it draws the viewers attention that hand also. If you look away from the hand that is in action, that also creates an effect. Check out this video of Hoopalicious at the NorthWest Hoop Gathering:
I was going to use it to give you an example of directed gaze but, instead, I’m going to dissect it for you and let her illustrate MANY of the points I’ve made here. I am just pointing out dance concepts, not tricks. Look how many there are:
- 0:15-0:20: Footwork
- 0:40-0:45: Armwork (specifially isolated shoulder work – 4x)
- 1:10-1:25 Armwork (both arms together in the wave – 6x)
- 1:14 Tempo Change (from fast to slow)
- 1:18 Directed Gaze (this move is bad ass. It’s my favorite of the whole video. Feel how it affects you. And the crowd.)
- 1:34-1:40 Armwork (each arm moving individually)
- 1:46 Tempo Change (from slow to fast again)
- 1:50-1:56 Footwork (alternating step behinds)
- 1:57 Tempo Change (stop all movement with the feet, legs and waist and just do arms and chest hooping)
- 2:20-2:35 Level Changes (drops to floor)
- 2:26-2:32 Footwork while doing a level change to the floor!
- 2:40 Gesture: fanning
- 3:09 Gesture: blowing kisses
Just knowing that all these areas are aspect of dance allows you to put your attention on them and begin to gather more tools for your toolbox. Gently focus on one at a time and as you pick up things here and there, your dance will become more nuanced. It will also keep you engaged and ever learning. It will also allow you to communicate more and better through your dance. Try not to be intimidated. Like hooping, the journey is much more important that focusing on some future destination. The adventures lie in the Here and Now.