Lisa McClernon spins up a slow and sublime hoop dance after having a breakthrough in her hooping practice. She says, “Wasn’t feeling my flow today, then this! Very pleased. Thinking I have to remember to slow it down more often, I always like my flow when I do.” We love her flow when she does too. It’s actually quite magical. Lisa lives in Evansville, Indiana, USA, and you can score a copy of this beautiful track for your own music collection quite easily on iTunes.
What has hoop flow brought to the Arabian lands in the past 7 months? As Teeba Alkhudairi of Flowground says, “We have all witnessed and contributed to the growth of our hooping community in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia during the past 7 months. We should be all be proud. The best part is? This is only the beginning of our hoop journey in the region. LOTS more to come!” Filmed in locations across the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, this is something we are completely in celebration of. The soundtrack for this one is “Changes” by Faul & Wad Ad vs. Pnau and you can grab a copy for yourself over on iTunes.
“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing, or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same.” ~ Martha Graham
In her 2009 essay, An Athlete of God, legendary dancer and choreographer Martha Graham celebrates the magic of the dancing body and the practice required to achieve that magic. She declares, “It takes about ten years to make a mature dancer.” Then she explains that maturity emerges through dedicated training by which “the body is shaped, disciplined, honored, and in time, trusted.”
While her personal level of rigor for training and the 10 year time-line is beyond the experience of most hoop dancers, her advice is nonetheless illuminating, even for those of us who practice, perform, and play in more informal settings. She reminds us that a compelling and marvelous hoop dance requires two simple ingredients: practice and time. Regardless of our learning curve or the amount of time we can put in, there are a few things to keep in mind to make our practice more effective and fulfilling as we work toward our hooping goals.
Foremost is the concept of muscle memory. Muscle memory is the “pay off” of practice — whether that practice is a marathon hoop session or a quick hoop break during lunch hour. According to neuroscientist Daniel Glaser, while muscle memory “obviously manifests itself physically as far as dance is concerned, what actually happens. . . is that the movements become thoroughly mapped in the brain, creating a shorthand between thinking and doing.” What muscle memory actually describes is procedural memory, the memory of how to do things. It requires no conscious effort to access. As such, it is a form of implicit or unconscious memory. Patterns of movement are practiced to the point where they can be performed automatically.
This shift from actively thinking about the process to automatically performing it marks a shift from the cerebrum to the cerebellum. The cerebrum is the “thinking” part of the brain. It is what we use when we stop to recall information like an address or a fact from a history book. It’s also the part of the brain that hoopers use when actively thinking, “Ok, when I release the hoop I need to make contact with the back of my hand. One…two…three….release….and give it some back-spin.”
With enough practice all that information becomes encoded as procedural memory. At that point, the cerebellum steps in. The cerebellum is conceptualized as the “skill center” of the brain. It deals primarily with motor skills. It controls equilibrium and balance, fine tunes movements, and coordinates movements produced in other parts of the brain so they can be carried out unconsciously. The cerebellum is also highly adaptive. It accounts for less than 10% of the brain’s mass, but it contains over 50% of the brain’s neurons. Neurons are specialized cells in the brain that transmit information as electrical impulses. The cerebellum and the cerebrum are in constant communication, so you can think of the cerebellum as a super-conductive part of the brain that takes signals from other parts of the brain and carries them out, making fine-tune adjustments along the way. Thus, while your cerebrum reminds you that your toss needs back-spin, it is the cerebellum that initiates and distinguishes between the flick of the wrist that actually creates a back spin versus forward spin.
So what can hoopers take away from this crash-course in neuroscience?
For one, muscle/procedural memory reinforces the importance of practice. Only through repetition does information shift from conscious to automatic. The shift takes time, but interestingly enough, some studies show that practicing daily in short sessions yields better results than practicing in one long block.
Similarly, coaches and trainers warn against repeating failures. Muscle memory makes little distinction between right and wrong — though some research suggests that the endorphins released during a success does contribute to mapping correct movements into the brain. Nonetheless, if you find yourself unable to grasp or improve a movement, it can be helpful to take a break and return to it later. The goal is to avoid encoding errors into your muscle memory that force you to unlearn an incorrect motion before you can learn it correctly.
Another concept important to muscle memory is “chunking.” Chunking describes the process where individual bits of information are linked together into longer, more complex blocks. This is the difference between a single movement (a forward weave) and a combination (a forward weave into an elbow toss followed by a coin-flip). The intersection of chunking and muscle memory is a reminder to practice new moves in connection with other movements. In a flow-state, a hooper is drawing primarily on muscle memory, so if your only access point to a movement is from a static, disconnected grip, you’ll never automatically “trigger” that new move you worked so hard to learn.
Muscle memory also helps explain the difficulty we experience trying to break down a movement or sequence to teach it. Memories that are accessed consciously are more closely connected with verbalization. Implicit (or unconscious) memories are not. Breaking down a movement becomes a challenge similar to describing how you balance to stay upright on a bicycle. You can do it, but to explain it, you have to re-access the “thinking” part of the brain to break the process back down into conscious steps.
To return to Martha Graham, the key to growing as a performer is practice and time. Understanding muscle memory can help hoopers cultivate an effective practice and reminds us that over-time, what we learn will essentially become a part of us. Muscle memory serves as a gate-way to what hoopers tend to call flow, but Graham conceptualized as trust in the body and grace. Her essay ends with a compelling reminder that where practice ends, “…there is grace. I mean the grace resulting from faith… faith in life, in love, in people, in the act of dancing. All this is necessary to any performance in life which is magnetic, powerful, rich in meaning.”
Contributor Heather Hughes is an analytic English major by day and a cosmic dancer by night…when her children go to bed on time. At home in rural Missouri she coordinates Sedalia Spin Gypsies, a local performance group that focuses on community events and promoting hoop dance as part of the healthy, empowered lifestyle. Between teaching, creek-stomping, and devouring science fiction novels, she blogs about the good life at Tangle and Spiral.
There is nothing more frustrating to a hooper than when it just won’t come together. We feel clunky, awkward. Perhaps we get stuck in a repetitive move trap, using the same moves and transitions fished from the same tiny pool. There are a few things that have helped me feel much happier with my flow lately, and I wish I had thought about them sooner so I could build them into my practice from the very start.
One of the hardest things in our development as a hooper is allowing our natural style, or flow, to come out when we hoop. It seems a lot of us go through the same stages starting out – learning to basic hoop, the flush of love, and even obsession, the trick collecting stage, the thinking you will never get to make it look effortless like all those hoopers on YouTube do. And then one day…a piece of music will come on…and you will suddenly flow from one move to another without having to think, plan or pull your concentration face at all!
Welcome to the wonderful world of flow! Now that you’ve had a taste of it, how do we recreate it? Hoop flow comes with muscle memory, and muscle memory comes from repetition. I know it isn’t exactly glamorous, but the best way to prepare for flow in our future is spinning those same moves until they become second nature for us. Drill them until you can do them in your sleep. Once a move really does become second nature for us, it becomes an ingredient for our flow.
Another important tip for finding our flow is to take time in your hooping practice to hoop freely to the music. Don’t think, just hoop. The flow state really starts to come our way more when we we are not thinking and move from within. Get inside your hoop, put on music you love and let go. When you are able to no longer think at all about what we are doing inside the hoop, it is a lot easier not to give the hoop a second thought. We are truly free to flow.
There are things that we can do while learning new moves to fold them into our repertoire in a way that makes them far less static too. The next time you’re adding a trick to your collection, think of it less as a singular move, and more as a movement note in a much bigger song.
Whenever we are learning a new move, begin to concentrate less on the move itself. Look at the starting position closely. Examine the details of your finishing position. What plane is the hoop in? What handgrip do you currently have? What are you doing with the rest of your body? Once you become aware of where a move could begin and end, ask yourself how many ways and moves you can think of to get you into position.
Once you have your ideas, give every single one of them a spin as you are work on your new trick. Then, when you are in finishing position, ask yourself what all the possibilities are for what you could do next. Where can you swing, throw, flip, fold, wedgie the hoop from there? What new possibilities will you discover if you change the handgrip? Be creative! Not only will you be learning in a way that will incorporate new moves into your larger repertoire, the best new moves and combos can come out of this as well.
When we take time to not just trick collect, but discover lots of different routes into our new moves and combos as we are learning them, we will be well on our way to having super flow when we have them down. If we can activate this state of confidence, freedom, and unconscious self expression in our hooping, we can unlock it in other areas of our life as well. Is it really any coincidence that so many hoopers say hooping has changed their life?
Contributor Rachel Conlisk was addicted to hooping from the very start and now spends most of her time thinking about hooping, finding new music for her hoop classes, or spinning it up. A data analyst for a school, she spreads the hoop love on campus daily with a hoop club for kids, and teaches a weekly adult hooping class in Smethwick. You can follow her hoopenings at HoopsRock.com and take her class in Birmingham, England, UK.
by Philo Hagen.
When I started hoop dancing there really weren’t any tricks to learn or combinations to figure out. There was simply the beat and the hoop. We’d crank the music and move to the beat, waist hooping for hours. Of course we didn’t even think of it as waist hooping because we weren’t really hooping anywhere else on our bodies – yet. We were just hooping.
Every now and then one of us would accidentally do something that looked kind of cool and we’d try to recreate it and do it again. Our skill set, as it were, was very limited and it grew incredibly slowly, but boy were we ever happy hoopers. We were blissfully free from living in a place where anyone thought we needed to be doing anything with our hooping too, other than enjoying it. We had no personal expectations. There weren’t any videos to watch. YouTube wasn’t invented until three years later. All we were really left with was simply finding our own groove.
Sometimes, however, I marvel at the hoopers of today, hoopers who are incredibly capable of picking things up so quickly. Someone I know who has been hooping for six months is smoothly doing moves that weren’t even on my radar those first few years. They hadn’t even been invented yet! There’s something to be said though for being able to see someone do something first. It can inspire us. “Wow, did you see that? Maybe I can do that too,” we all say to ourselves. What we have seen has become filed in our mind as something possible. It’s like we have to have it in our imagination first in order for it to become a reality.
With all that in mind, the technological progress in the hooping community since the early days is truly a beautiful thing. It has allowed all of us the opportunity to bloom, expand and grow in ways we would otherwise never have even conjured on our own. I fully celebrate everyone who has helped make all of it possible. Still, there’s something to be said for the organic hooping process too. In fact, most of the big names in hooping today spun their way to our forefront by following their own path and doing their own thing rather than simply following the crowd.
Can I get the names of a few hoopers from our audience that inspire you? Let’s see, I think I heard Baxter, Brecken, Rich Porter, Tiana, – so let’s start with them, shall we? Jonathan Livingston Baxter of The Hoop Path started his own blindfolded daily hooping practice in his backyard in a small town called Carrboro, North Carolina. Hooping alone for hours, for months, he discovered things for himself that grew out of an organic inner directed framework, things that would ultimately become very him in the hoop world. We’re talking about things like breaks, reversals, paddling. Today Baxter has a style that is so uniquely him that even if I he was hooping in silhouette behind a sheet we’d all know exactly who it was. It’s a style he developed hooping on his own and he found his own groove along the way.
Brecken Rivara had been hooping for several years before she hit the community fanfare radar. She was just hooping it up and geeking out with her hoop on her own in Baltimore, Maryland, relatively oblivious to what the rest of the hoop community was up to. Today she’s so Brecken that legions of hoopers hang on her every hoop. Meanwhile, Rich Porter discovered the hoop in the small town of San Luis Obispo, California, and it wasn’t long before his architectural and mathematically inclined mind started putting his own spin on it, isolating the hoop with great precision, developing diagrams and patterns within his movement. His inner hoop path gave us isopops and more. Tiana Zoumer found her own organic groove living in a county where there weren’t any other hoopers. She hooped and played and experimented in her yard and it wasn’t long before a style emerged that would organically be so uniquely her own.
In today’s digital age we now have the luxury of being able to turn on our computers and watch videos online of these wonder hoopers and many more who qualify as well. Watching them hoop, their styles and moves can inspire us. They highlight what is possible inside the hoop and we thank and celebrate them for the gifts they’ve given us to move and flow and grow. Sometimes as hoopers, however, we can lose sight of the wonder within our very own organic hooping system. Many hoopers, myself included, have at one time or another fallen prey to the idea that somehow we need to learn how to do it all – and we need to be able to do it all perfectly. First off, we need to thank our heads for sharing and politely tell them to shut up. Perfectionism is a miserable way to live and an even more miserable way to hoop. Secondly, if you’re finding that your hoop joy has gotten a little lost along the way or it isn’t as shiny as it once was, this is often cited as a primary cause.
We need to remember that most of the hooper stars we collectively hold in high personal esteem actually aren’t doing it all, nor are they even trying to. They’re all doing things that are so uniquely them. When you look at mental pictures of these truly amazing hoopers you see them doing things they’ve personally defined as being part of their own personal hooping arsenal or repertoire. Which then begs the question, what’s in yours? If the hoopers in our community that we treasure the most are the ones who are doing their own thing, wouldn’t it make sense that if we all individually find our own groove and do our own thing that our own personal celebration will begin? That we are more likely to find the same celebration from others too? Chances are we are going to be a lot happier doing it along the way too.
Next time you’re practicing your hooping, don’t. In fact, if you’ve got a severe case of “Stella lost her hoop groove” my advice is to stop watching any videos for thirty days (except the ones on Hooping.org, of course). Turn your video camera off and take a break from doing any filming. Put together a hooping playlist of songs that really make you feel something, songs that make your spirit soar. Whatever music speaks to you, regardless of what anyone else might think of it, put it on the list. If you haven’t already done so, create a personal space for you to hoop or find one, maybe even outdoors, that feels like it’s a safe place for you to let go and find your inner spin. Then just hoop, daily, alone. Be open minded. Listen to what the music, the hoop and your body have to tell you. Are there moves you are working on that leave you feeling frustrated and disconnected, rather than personally plugged in and flying? If there are, you might want to let em go for now. Focus on the things that feel like you, the moves and grooves that make you happy and if you get the urge to try something of your own volition, go for it. It is in this type of organic hooping setting that we all can get our groove back and find or return to a hoop path of true hooping celebration.
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.