Happy June Hoopers!
June in Toronto is magical for a hoop dancer. The weather is beautiful, the trees are full with leaves, the flow jams have begun, and we can finally toss a hoop 20 feet into the air without too much consequence. ;)
Speaking of jams, there are plenty of regular and irregular flow/circus jams in our awesome city. If you are looking for a resource, you can check out the JAMS page right on this website OR there are some great groups on Facebook for last minute or one-off jams... Like this one: Flow Arts - Park Meet Ups
So onto the real reason you are here....
To read about the Hooper of the Month for June!
This month, I'm featuring a NEWish hoop crush of mine. I met her personally at Hoop Path in Toronto this past April. I knew right away that she was a professionally trained dancer. Watching her well-trained body in motion with the hoop gave me goosebumps! Her arms and legs moved alongside the hoop in ways I could only imagine. She would also pull out these really tech-y moves but paired them with a lovely dance-y gracefulness. I was obviously witnessing a rare sighting of the BAD ASS Ninja Unicorn!
I later learned that this Ninja-corn (trademarked, copywrited, etc...) also used her skills for more than just making my eyes feel happy! This awesome woman does a ton of work with kids who come from low-income areas that don't generally have the opportunity or privilege to participate regularly in dance programs. The work she has done and is still doing is truly amazing. She has a few videos of the kids' routines., but here is one I recently enjoyed:
Thank you for the work you do....
This month's Hooper of the Month is:
Here is her interview:
What is your name?
How long have you been hooping and tell the story of how you got into it?
I have been hooping since 2010. I first saw hooping on the beach in Erie, PA at a drum circle. As a trained dancer I thought it was a beautiful dance form that I some how didn’t know about. I spent 3 hours trying to learn how to waist hoop unsuccessfully. I was even using the really big OG hoops and the girls that were hooping, Anna Haller and Carissa Perez, tried to teach me but I was pretty hopeless but very determined. The girls said they would be back in 2 weeks and it became all I could think about. A few days before they returned I had a dream that I was a hula hooping champion and when I went back to the beach I could magically waist hoop! I believe I learned how to hoop in my dream. I was then performing within a month and teaching within 4 months.
Where do you live and what is the hoop scene like there?
I live in Erie, PA a city located on Lake Erie. When I started hooping in 2010 there were literally a handful of hoopers in the city. Over the years it has grown vastly due to my teaching 12 - 15 hoop classes a week for the past 7 years, serving over 1,200 people on a regular basis a year.
Our demographic is probably different than other hoop scenes though. I mainly focus on teaching low income inner city kids. There are over thousands of hoop dance kids in my city who have taken regular lessons and have made their own hoops. Since 2012 as a PA Council on the Arts Teaching Artist I have also developed programs where I go into schools and teach science, math, reading and writing through hoop dance and creative dance. The adult population has grown as well with the inclusion of hoop dance as a main part of most community events. I have even taught hoop and creative dance classes specifically for senior citizens and for the past 6 years as part of the Partners in Dance program in which I teach biweekly classes to individuals with developmental and physical disabilities who then perform for their families, friends and community every spring. Erie, PA has embraced a hoop dance culture for all people and sees its value in contributing to physical development, emotional maturity, social awareness, and cognitive development!
Who is your hoop crush? Do they have any social media channels so we can crush too?
I have a preference for hoopers who actually dance and move their body in relationship to their hoop. One of my favorite people to follow is Maggie Walker. Her instagram is @mag_walker. She has her own authentic style that definitely stems from moving her body. Another unique mover is Shelly McBurnett @slackerspins on Instagram. She has a quirkiness that I just adore. And of course I have to give a shout out to Anah Reichenbach @therealhoopalicious, one of the original people who dances her heart out with a fabulous body rocking hoop style. There are so many inspiring hoopers out there here is the list of others who have been inspirations throughout the way; Paige LaWall, Olive Marie, Bonnie MacDougall, Nick Guzzardo, Brecken Rivara, Johnathan Baxter, Beth Lavinder, Nicki Cacciato, Lee Jeffries, and Kaydi Mcmahan. Ok I need to stop somewhere…..but I could go on forever! So much talent in this community.
What else inspires your hoop dance flow?
My dance training definitely is the base of the continued endless exploration of hoop dance. I have the privilege of dancing with Dafmark Dance Company and as a result have access to a beautiful studio to practice in which is inspiring. I am also inspired by the beaches at Presque Isle State Park which overlook Lake Erie and is where I found hooping. Music is often an inspiration for creating choreographic works that come from a place of depth and meaning. My hoop students and Dafmark Dance and the Inner City Neighborhood Art House are also sources of inspiration! Working with and dancing the choreographic works of Dafna Rathouse Baier of Dafmark Dance is probably my biggest inspiration and the expander/challenger of my growth as a dancer, creator and teacher.
What move or technique was the most challenging to learn? Do you remember how you felt after you finally unlocked it?
Honestly, waist hooping! As I mentioned in my finding the hoop story I really sucked at waist hooping but I was persistent and it paid off. Hooping has been a wonderful lesson in persistence and patience.
What do you do to get yourself out of a hoop dance “rut”?
I really haven't run into hoop ruts. I think the fact that I teach so much encourages me to continue my personal growth so I always have something to offer. I also am expected to create between 15-20 new choreographic works each year so that doesn't really allow time to get into a rut because I need to constantly finding new unique ways to express something through hoop dance.
What do you love most about the hoop community as a whole?
The hoop community is magic! I have met so many amazing hoop dancers throughout the nation/world. The things I think are pretty universal to hoopers are their authenticity, their generosity, their openness, their ability to have fun, their ability to share, their ability to come together and rally around one another. Additionally, hoopers are like their own network of couch surfing lol. I have stayed with hoopers from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, California, and of course Toronto!
Do you consider yourself more of a “body rocker” or an “off body wizard”?
I think I am a fusion of both. Essentially anything that allows me to explore fusing movement that initiates from within the body and then extends into the hoop (or vice versa) is what I have been interested over the past 8 years.
What is your hoop of choice?
For the past 4-5 years I have been with the same sized hoop, 31” 3/4” polypro.
How has hooping changed your life?
Well it has been my full time career for more than 6 year which is definitely a life change from a career in middle management for a social service organization. Hoop dance has introduced me to some of the most important people in my life! It has allowed me to fuse my passions for dance, helping others, working with a variety of underserved and unserved populations, and education into one thing. It has allowed me to travel the world much more and encourages my pursuit of lifelong learning. Hoop dance has become the construct by which I have created the world I currently live in, which has led to a complete transformation of my life into something of a dream!
What would you say to a hooping skeptic to try and convince them to start hooping?
I don’t believe in the hard sell of anything. If someone is going to hoop there is going to be a draw that is so strong that they can’t deny it. I think the hoop is convincing all on its own ;) I just need to share the joy it brings me by dancing with it and in it, then others come.
Anything else you want to say about hooping?
I want to encourage other hoop dancers who teach to consider bringing hoop classes to inner city kids, seniors, kids and adults with developmental and physical disabilities and other non traditional hoop populations. The benefits and rewards of this work are amazing. I want hoop teachers and choreographers to know I am a resource to them to discuss how to start programs, how I fund programs (a lot of grant writing), and suggestions for reading materials to learn more about the art of teaching and/or about how to create quality choreography based in the art of dance .
composition. I love sharing knowledge with others who want to grow and learn too.
Thank you so much to Jennifer for taking the time to answer my questions! So inspiring! If you would like to follow Jennifer, check out her Instagram @jdennehy_dancer. You can also chcek out her website here: www.jenniferdennehy.com