Hooping Culture: Circus vs Dance



I dove into the Australian circus hooping culture last month and came away with some observations about how hoop dance and circus hooping differ.

Lexicon. Circus hoopers train and drill, hoop dancers practice and jam. This pretty much sets the tone for every other difference I noted.

Hoop Size. Circus hoopers prefer (and sometimes insist upon) hoops of a certain size - about hip height. I was told many times that the hoops I used were too small. Hoop dancers use whatever size they like or fits their groove.

Hoop Current. Hoop dancers use both currents with one dominant direction based on personal preference. Circus hoopers hoop counter-clockwise if they are right handed, and clockwise if they are left handed. This is to allow their stronger hand to perform the tricks. Circus hoopers really don't use their second current.

Speed. Circus hoopers spin consistently fast, especially so when drilling. Hoop dancers move at different paces, but generally more slowly.

Precision and Control. Circus hoopers have it in abundance and without fail. Hoop dancers don't always, because they have...

Flow. Being in the moment and reacting to changes in the hoop with a certain unconsciousness is what hooping is about for many hoop dancers. Circus hoopers don't flow. They train so they can perform the same routine flawlessly every time.

Persona. Both in the dance and circus worlds, some hoopers have a strong stage persona and others let the hoops themselves have the spotlight.

Ensembles. It seems to me that circus hoopers tend towards ensemble work, with duo and group choreography that tells a story or paints an entertaining picture for the audience. Hoop dancers seem to perform alone more often or in groups that don't interact as entertainment.

Community. Australian circus hoopers have a strong and vibrant community, with rivalries and partnerships among circuses all over the continent. They aren't too interested in the hoop dance community. In fact, some circus hoopers call non-circus hoopers "feral." When I mentioned hoop dance resources like hooping.org, and hoopcity, I got a lot of blank stares. Because the circus community is so tight, most hoop dancers haven't heard much them. I'll try to fix that soon with some links to the people I met in my travels.

Personally, after training with the circus hoopers for a couple of weeks, I identify more than ever as a hoop dancer. I admire the circus culture with my whole heart, and came away from training with a lot of new knowledge, inspiration and ideas. But I am a wuss and the rigid strictness of training and the pain of circus injuries isn't my cup of tea. Maybe if I'd run away to the circus a little earlier in my life...


I found this fascinating. I am not a strong enough hooper to belong to either group, but I find the different factions interesting.

There are definitely similar distinctions in juggling but I have always noticed them most strongly in unicycling, where the difference in attitudes between different styles of unicyclist divides into several, fairly clear-cut subcultures.

What a wonderful summary! I'm so glad you posted it. I wish I could write as good.

I liked your post so much I made a link to it from my blog.

i am constantly considering whether or not to "run away" and join the circus. even though it's a ridiculous possibility, i like to keep it in there rattling around in my brain, in case things get too stressful. there was a time when i could outhoop any kid on the playground but that was elementary school.

I really enjoyed your article and i have noticed some of the things you have mentioned.

I have a few points to add though, the first one is some thing to remember when talking about Australian Circus hula hoopers, the thing is that hula hooping in Australian Trad and Contemporary circus has been around for a long long time, much longer than the current hoop dance. I has also had strong community and styles involved. I think this is why some times it people can seem funny about hoop dance, particularly because until recently a lot of the "hoop dance" tricks that were being discovered were already being used long ago in this strong and vibrant community.

I have also had a couple of experiences in the exact reverse to your feral hooper one which just goes to show that there can be bad eggs in every basket. I have been straight up told to my face that i was teaching every thing wrong and had no idea about hooping by some hoop dancers when i was teaching a circus hoops class. More specifically I was teaching splits which are complicated and have specific techniques that i have been teaching and training with successes for a long time. These techniques work for what we were trying to learn and came out of years of Russian, Chineses and Australian.

The second point would be that I think Australian style Circus hula hooping evolved for a different reason and to serve a different purpose, hoop dance cam out of people finding some thing to do for fun and that was enjoyable, which then moved on to interesting performances for some people. Where as the Circus hooping started as a way to perform and the for a lot of people became something to do just for fun. A lot of the time in Circus hooping it is not as much about flow and tricks as it is about creating an entertaing/story telling/funny act. Here is a good Example.

Basically i think both styles are rad and each have there own merit and history that needs to be remembered.

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  • Jane: I really enjoyed your article and i have noticed some read more
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  • Native American Hoopdancer: What a wonderful summary! I'm so glad you posted it. read more
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