Hoops Can Teach Us About Everything!

Jennifer Dennehy Teaches
Jennifer Dennehy Teaches
[Hooping.org’s Editor Philo Hagen gets schooled on teaching with hoops.]

by Philo Hagen

In all of the interviews we’ve done with hoopers around the world over the years we’ve yet to talk to anyone who hasn’t learned a lot about themselves and life as a result of stepping inside of a relatively simple plastic ring. The hoop can be such a powerful and incredible teacher and continues to reveal more and more to us as a result of our spending more time inside of it. But our hoops can not only teach us about such awesome things as health and fitness, weight loss, spirituality and meditation, how to play as an adult, all of those typical things we tend to routinely revel in here that come from hooping. No, our hoops can also be used to teach so much more about, well, pretty much everything! Take Avery Pascal of News Channel 28 for example. Here she gives us the hoop scoop on how the hula hoop relates to physics!

Kids like Avery aren’t the only ones using hoops to help others get smarter either. Teaching Artist Jennifer Dennehy has been incorporating hooping to her teaching. Back in 2010 a friend took her to a drum circle at the beach and lo and behold there were hoopers there. She told Hooping.org, “I was just blown away at how beautiful and unique each persons’ movement style was. Having been a trained dancer since the age of 3 in a variety of dance techniques, I knew immediately that I needed hooping and hoop dance in my life.” For the next two weeks hooping was all Jennifer could think about and these days she’s not only incorporating 20+ years of dance training with the hoop into creating her own unique hoop dance style, she’s spinning hoop dance to teach kids about important things, things like our solar system!

Dennehy’s five day Hoop Dance Residency at First District Elementary School in Meadville, Pennsylvania, got kids making hoops and hoop dancing with the goal of learning about the planets that surround us. The kids learned about rotation vs. revolution. They learned which planets rotated faster or slower, which revolve faster or slower, what the atmospheres are like on other planets, all of this explored through movement. With her guidance and instruction kids utilized their measurement skills to size and create their own hoops, taping them with designs based on research into the colors of their assigned planet. And perhaps best yet – they also learned to engage their abdominal muscles and exercise while exploring their personal space – creating their own movements to represent something about their planet, movements that were woven together into a dance story to the book Meet the Planets, which they performed for the kindergarten class to Holst: The Planets. We talked to Dennehy to hear all about it.

Dennehy's Class Hooping.org: How does an artist end up teaching kids about science?

Dennehy: I am what is known as a teaching artist, someone who is able to teach a number of different subjects, reading, writing, math, social studies, or science, through their art form in collaboration with a classroom teacher. This particular program was part of Arts in Action, a four-year project that integrates dance, music, visual arts and drama into existing curriculum to enhance both the quality of teaching in the classroom, as well as student academic achievement and engagement in the learning process.

Hooping.org: That is so cool. So how did your hooping and hoop dance and the solar system end up coming together?

Dennehy: I was taking an Arts in Action graduate class at Edinboro University and on the first day artists who were new to teaching artistry presented their art form and based on this presentation schools decided if they would like to invite you to do a residency in their school. First District of Meadville requested me and paired me with their 3rd grade teachers. During our planning meetings we discussed what they were currently working on in all subjects and science, with their upcoming required curriculum of the solar system, seemed like a great fit.

Hooping.org: What do you think the kids learned?

Dennehy's Class Dennehy: There were specific learning objectives as identified in our lesson plan, but not everything can be summed up by these objectives. Students were able to demonstrate the definitions of rotation and revolution through movement. Students were able to really understand the different sizes and colors of each planet through learning how to make hoops which corresponded to their assigned planet. Also, students were able to learn how creating their own dance is like writing a story and they began
to understand the concept of sustained movement. They all learned some basic techniques or tricks with the hoops too which they were able to utilize while creating their dance. The really amazing thing about teaching artist residencies like this one is how fully engaged all of the students are, especially those who do not typically thrive in a regular classroom setting.

Hooping.org: That is so cool. I wish you came to my class when I was a kid! Do you see hooping as being something that connects us to the greater Universe?

Dennehy: Since hooping has come into my life it has had an amazing ability to connect me with wonderful people and experiences. This makes me believe that it connects us to everything. I believe in spreading the love of hoop dance and am so grateful to be given this new opportunity as a teaching artist to spread the hoop love while enhancing a child’s ability to learn subject matter in a whole new way. I cannot think of a better way to utilize this beautiful movement art form.

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Philo Hagen Philo Hagen is the Co-founder and Managing Editor of Hooping.org. He’s been spinning things up online and off since April 2003. Co-Founder of the Bay Area Hoopers and LA Hoopers hoop groups, Philo has performed internationally and has won Hoopie Awards for Male Hooper of the Year and Video of the Year. He lives in Los Angeles, California, USA.

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