by Bonnie MacDougall
Throughout time, communal dance has played an integral part in the growth of culture and society. According to Joan Cass, author of Dancing Through History, “Dance is a feature of every significant occasion and event crucial to tribal existence as part of ritual. The first thing to emphasize is that early dance exists as a ritual element. It does not stand alone as a separate activity or profession.” Think about it. Before dance was a profession or even a solitary pursuit, it existed as a means of communication, ritual, and cultural expression. So it’s no wonder that when we hoopers commune to dance together, we participate in a powerful and ancient tradition.
This comes to mind for me today because I have been bird watching, of all things. Spring and Summer reluctantly arrived in Michigan this year, pushing the cold dreariness of our long winter to the wayside, allowing the glory of rebirth to break through. My boys and I planted our first garden and they spend their afternoons checking with anxious excitement as the energy of these warm months push the tiny new plants through the topsoil. And, for my part, I have taken to watching the birds swimming and flying over the lake. It is their energy that fascinates me. The birds I covet mingle and share an energy that is mutual and interactive.
The two birds that have garnered my apt attention are a pair of elegant white swans. They appeared in early Spring and early on visited the lake every day. I marvel at their movements in the water and how they mirror each other. It is a dance. Two long, milky figures moving in a what seems a choreographed dance across the water. Swans generally mate for life, so it is no wonder that these two seemed to know the intricacies of the other, intuitively swimming in harmony. As with most things, I found my mind wandering back to hooping, drawing the similarities hoop dance can elicit in just the right circumstances.
It led me to reflect upon why the hooping community at large is so inspiring to me. Local hoop communities throughout the world take time to foster and grow their tribes. Those who cherish participating in them know how worthwhile it is to go through the steps of community development. Much like the swans I’ve been admiring, hoop communities not only dance in and out of relationships with each other, but quite literally dance WITH one other.
It’s not surprising, really. Given that the each hooper creates her own dance and energy, every hoop jam, every time is a different and new creation. Each one brings something new, invigorating, and powerful to everyone there. Like the swans, when I hoop with others, I like to do so silently. I put myself out there and hold space for others. Others like to spend time sharing skills or catching up on the week’s events while they hoop. Often a silent impromptu mingle occurs among attendees, encouraging non-verbal communication but with clear and intentional physical interaction. “Mingles” – where we find ourselves mirroring one another, or hooping in couples or as groups – are often lighthearted. Other times, they reveal a deeper, more unexpected route to connecting with those hooping around you.
Perhaps this desire to be with others in the hoop has helped spur the multitude of hoop events around the globe as well. Of course the amazing instruction given at each happening is a great pull for attendees. But when I think about the intense longing I feel to hoop with others at an event, or the melancholy I feel when I must leave them, I mostly crave the connection I get with other people who share my passion.
The spirit of hoop gatherings is such a natural conduit for interludes of magical, impromptu hoop jams. Let me share an example. Recently I taught at Peace, Love and Hoopiness in Nashville, Indiana, USA. My first class was after lunch and it was STEAMY outside. I was not sure how people were realistically going to make it through the hour-long class in that kind of heat. But then within minutes, the sky turned stormy, the temperature dropped, and the rain began to fall. Suddenly hoopers started filing in from everywhere and my class seemed to double, maybe even triple in size. And we all danced our hearts out in the rain. I gave instruction through my microphone, but sometimes wondered if it was even necessary. We seemed to all be sharing the communal pulse and reveling in the cleansing downpour. There was a language being spoken there. But no one was speaking. The surprise shower released a language of joy and freedom of movement that had previously been suppressed by the unrelenting heat.
Quite recently only one swan has returned to the lake on my property. It swims for short times, still relentlessly beautiful, but somehow it saddens me. Perhaps it’s because it swims for such small increments, or because I miss the intricate dance it had with its partner. I wonder what its story is now. This is not to say that we as dancers, as hoopers, should not spend time alone in the hoop. Of course we should! Many of us are solitary hoopers, after all, and each of us needs alone time to hone our skills in practice. However, the importance of our time together in the spin shouldn’t be overlooked or undervalued. According to James Hurd Nixon, “In ancient times and in traditional cultures, dance has functioned as the means by which people gathered and unified themselves in order to confront the challenges of their existence.” Dance has always existed as a uniting force, and it’s no different today. So my dear friends and hoopers, make sure you attend a hoop jam or event this Summer. Tune into those around you, engage in ritual dance, and feel the beating of our communal pulse just beneath your toes.
Columnist Bonnie MacDougall of HavenHoopDance has been in the spin since 2002. When she’s not dancing madly with her two kids, she sells custom made hoops and teaches local and regional hoop dance classes and workshops. From Carrboro, North Carolina, she now lives in Detroit, Michigan, USA.