Burlesque and acrobatic skills go together beautifully. Here Daisy Black looks at how to introduce hoop dance into your routines…
Both reliant on movement, grace and poise, hoop dance and burlesque go hand in hand, and, if executed well, complement and enhance each other perfectly. With both hooping and burlesque enjoying a resurgence in recent years, it is no surprise that there has been a cross-over between the disciplines. Performers like Pippa the Ripper and Anna the Hulagan are well-known on the cabaret scene for their hoop routines, and more people than ever before are picking up a hoop for the first time and giving it a whirl.
I began hooping over a year ago, and it quickly became apparent that there is a world of difference between the 1950s hula hooping craze and modern hoop dance. It has nothing to do with how long you can keep it around your waist, and, to some extent, neither does it rely solely on tricks (though we’ll come back to that later). Like burlesque, hoop dancing is about captivating an audience; it’s about every movement being deliberate and sensual, it’s about ‘flow.’ Flow is the term used to describe the feeling of dancing with the hoop as if it is an extension of your body, but it can also apply to regular burlesque with every deftly used prop and well-timed glove-peel enhancing your ‘flow’. It’s those moments in which you are utterly attuned to your body, the energy of the audience, the music.
There can be a tendency to divide hooping into two camps: hoop dance and circus hooping. This is unfortunate for a number of reasons (not least that we should all support each other), but also because so much can be gained from pooling skills. Let me explain.
Circus hooping, by nature, involves multi-hooping and trick-hooping. The audience are wowed by technical skill, often a series of tricks involving an ever-increasing amount of hoops on various body parts. Hoop dance involves tricks too – mostly with a single hoop and incorporated into the flow, but it also involves manipulating the hoop, making it dance and pop and hover.
Like all things, both these styles have good points and potential bad ones: circus hooping can run the risk of becoming a series of tricks, which though undeniably impressive, by sheer volume run the risk of numbing the audience to the feats they are witnessing. And hoop dance can be bland and over-simplified. But there are ‘bad’ examples of every art form, and it would be a shame to damn whole disciplines based on the least developed examples of that craft.
So good multi-hooping will include impressive skills, but will also be funny or ethereal or thematic (see Pippa the Ripper) but always engaging. Good hoop dance is fluid, emotive and accomplished. Musicality is important, as is technical skill, light and shade, rhythm. Go onto Youtube and take a look at a girl called Brecken Rivara, or Sharna Rose. THAT is flow. It would be missing a trick to not combine both styles.
You’ll notice, of course, that what constitutes good hooping (though of course ‘good’ can be subjective, but that’s another debate altogether) also constitutes good-quality burlesque. Funny, engaging, elegant, etc. And as with the stripping element of burlesque, when using hoop dance in burlesque there should be some kind of narrative – a reason for the clothes to come off, a reason for the hoop to be there. In one of my routines the hoops are with me from the beginning – they are the medium through which the ‘message’ of my act is conveyed. In another more narrative-based act a glowing white hoop becomes the moon. In Anna the Hulagan’s Triple Crown-winning hoop act at the World Burlesque Games, she based her act on the myth of the Phoenix, with feathers plucked from the hoop itself, before setting it on fire. It was a balance of technical skill, narrative, burlesque dance and ‘flow’.
I have performed one of my routines in both a traditional big top circus and at cabaret and burlesque nights and it is interesting to gauge which parts of the act get more of a reaction from those different audiences. What I strive to achieve and develop in my acts is a fusion of circus hooping, hoop dance and burlesque. I think audiences enjoy trick hooping and multi-hooping. I also believe they enjoy the opportunity to lose themselves in a sensual performance. Combining these elements into a burlesque performance has the potential to be nothing short of sublime.