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Not Just Child’s Play

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Hula hoops make a comeback in dance classes and choreography

By Mary Grimes

For most of us, hula hooping is simply a fond memory from childhood. We certainly didn’t think those hours spent pushing ourselves to reach 100 consecutive swings around the waist would later become a part of our training as dancers. However, with hooping now a growing trend in dance studios throughout the country, it may be time to thank our younger selves for those hours spent practicing our hula hoop skills in the backyard.

After a warm-up, students learn the basic technique needed to keep their hoops spinning. (Photo courtesy Mary Ann Knupla-Hodnett)

Hooping has been spreading within the fitness world for several years. With its cardiovascular and strengthening benefits, classes have popped up in gyms and fitness studios. Hooping, which doesn’t require the prerequisite of dance training, draws from many genres, including rhythmic gymnastics, baton twirling, fire dance, and hip-hop. With so much to work with, teachers are recognizing the possibilities of incorporating hooping into other technique classes and using it as a style of artistic expression as well as understanding the potential it holds for new dancers.

Mary Ann Krupka-Hodnett, a dance instructor who has been teaching hooping in dance studios for almost five years, is in the process of introducing her second hooping program within a dance studio. Her initial program, founded at Pure Form Dance in Rapid City, South Dakota, grew slowly but steadily, doubling its numbers throughout the first year it was offered. After selling her studio and relocating to the East Coast last year, she started her second program at Progressive Dance Studio in Englewood, New Jersey. This new program has been showing strong growth in a short time, nearly doubling in size within the first month, with new students trying the class every week.

Krupka-Hodnett says her dance students are drawn to hooping because of both the physical challenge and the artistry. She loves it, she says, because “there is so much imagination and creativity to this ‘Zen’ dance style. The circular motion of the hoop is peaceful and beautiful. It is an amazing core builder, and arm strength is enhanced as well with tricks similar to baton twirling.”

Indeed, Vivian Spiral, owner of Spiral Hoop Dance, a hooping company and instructional site, echoes this sentiment, stating on her website that the physical benefits include improved hand–eye coordination, flexibility, and balance, and enhanced movement in the spine and hips.

Hooping can be done to a wide variety of music and in a range of settings, making it adaptable to various kinds of classes. “The hoop has a beautiful meditative quality that blends well with lots of different music styles,” says Krupka-Hodnett. Along with teaching classes in hooping technique, she has included hooping tricks in hip-hop, jazz, and modern classes.

The hoops used for classes are bigger and heavier than the hula hoops children use, which makes them more durable and allows them to rotate more slowly. Hoops can be made of wood, metal, or plastic. The larger the hoop, the more slowly it will rotate. As students advance, teachers can challenge them by shrinking the hoop size. Hoops can be purchased online, either through sites that specialize in hooping materials or all-inclusive sites like eBay. Many students enjoy purchasing and decorating their own hoops with ribbons or colored gaffer’s tape and decorating them for performances.

According to Krupka-Hodnett, a typical hooping class begins with a 10- to 15-minute hip-hop-style warm-up, incorporating cardiovascular movements and light stretching of the arms, wrists, legs, and spine. The warm-up lets the students get acquainted with the hoop before focusing on core circles and arm or hand tricks, by which they learn the proper technique to keep the hoop spinning. After they master this technique, more advanced tricks are introduced. Students will learn at various speeds, but hooping works well for mixed-level classes since a great deal of time is spent working individually.

A hooping class has less structure than a dance technique class and takes on more of an organic feel, with much of the time spent on developing tricks and skills. The repetition of spinning the hoop builds core strength and develops aerobic stamina. Students can work on their own or one-on-one with the instructor to perfect various skills. This allows students to take responsibility for their own growth and to challenge themselves in every class. The one-on-one time with the instructor gives them time to ask questions. Class time can also be spent focusing on group choreography and challenging students to coordinate their hooping with each other.

Typically, hooping classes will end with a jam session. Students make a circle and enter the middle one at a time, showcasing their skills or rehearing their newest trick. Compared to other styles of dance, choreography for hooping is often much more individualized, as it’s nearly impossible to get all the dancers to spin their hoops at the same speed, an important factor to consider when preparing for a performance. Students will find one direction of spinning to be much more comfortable than the other, so it may be important to divide your students by their hooping direction when building a dance.

Perhaps one of the most exciting perks of hooping is the creative possibilities for both choreographers and dancers that come with using a new prop. In addition to offering new movement options, hoops can add to a show’s visual effects. They can be decorated in a myriad of ways for performances, including with LED lights in a variety of sizes and colors or to match a dance’s costuming or illustrate a theme or holiday.

“The circular motion of the hoop is peaceful and beautiful. It is an amazing core builder, and arm strength is enhanced as well with tricks similar to baton twirling.” —Mary Ann Krupka-Hodnett

Like dance, hooping can lead to injuries. Bruises on the hands or arms are fairly common when students are learning new tricks. Some students may experience mild low back pain or bruising on their hipbones as they are introduced to the style. And it’s important to limit the number of students enrolled in the class according to the size of the studio; students need enough space to spin their hoops safely. Ceiling height becomes a factor if you plan to have students experiment with throwing their hoops in the air.

Adding a hooping program to a studio’s offerings holds the potential to attract a new clientele base. If prospective students and parents have questions, many resources on the Internet can provide them with answers. Sites such as hoopnotica.com and hooping.org provide explanations of what hooping is as well as links for teacher-training courses. Although being licensed to teach hoop dance isn’t necessary (except when teaching trademarked forms such as Hoopnotica), these websites can be good places to learn new tricks and teaching methods for the style. These websites can also connect studio owners with hooping teachers in their area.

Perhaps a better option, though, is to present small performances throughout the year to demonstrate what hooping is and build interest in it. Introducing simple hooping skills in beginner hip-hop or modern classes can also be a great way to draw students into other classes.

With the world of dance constantly shifting and growing, a one-of-a-kind class like hooping might help your studio stand out from the rest. You’ll be giving your students yet another option and perhaps give them an edge if they hope to pursue acrobatic and circus styles of performing. Hoop dance can also complement a student’s dance training by building stamina, core strength, and dexterity.

Hooping classes give your students yet another option—and perhaps an edge—if they hope to pursue acrobatic and circus styles of performing. And, with the world of dance constantly shifting and growing, a one-of-a-kind class like hooping might help your studio stand out from the rest.

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