Is there a difference between hula hooping and hoop dancing? Yes and no.
The honest answer is that YES, there can be a major difference between the act of hula hooping and the act of hoop dancing. The real question is whether these labels are misused, or even recognized by the hooping community. The longer I teach hoop dance, the more I am confronted with the realization that there are SO many different types of hoopers out there. The growing popularity of hooping has continued to accentuate the extreme variety of style, technique, and flow in our community. However, I’ve noticed that there are two major hooping styles developing simultaneously and continuously in our world…
Some of us are very technical hoopers. Hoopers that just.can’t.get.enough. of the hoop tricks! These hoopers are always nerding out (in a good way) over newly discovered ways to amaze an audience with this incredible thing we call the hula hoop. Tech-y hoopers, as I like to call them, tend to be quick, reversal oriented, punctuated, isolated, dynamic, yet demonstrate minimal body movement (in relation to the hoop). When you watch a technical hooper perform, the hoop tends to be the focal point of most, or all, of the act. (*All generalizations, I realize!)
Some of us are hoopers of flow. Hoopers that are more passionate about the visual “big picture” of their practice or performance. These artists can dance fast or slow, but they tend to focus more on body movement and transitions than on technical application. These hoopers are often, but not always, dancers of other forms (eg. ballet, jazz, hip hop, ballroom, whatever!), and it shows because of the body movement they incorporate into their practice. Transitions and use of space are important to this type of hooper, and you might notice that they transform the hoop into a visual compliment to their primary dance tool: their body. (*More generalizations…I know!)
Neither of these styles is better than the other. They are simply different. Styles exist so we don’t have to all look the same! If everyone hooped the same way, we would never be able to push boundaries, find inspiration, discover new techniques, and learn from each other the way we do now.
That being said, I notice two different types of students in my classes: those who want to learn to dance fluidly with the hula hoop, and those who just want to learn as many cool tricks as possible. This motivational difference is especially obvious to me when I teach kids. I find it really fascinating.
“I see a lot of hoopers out there criticize themselves for not having a larger “trick bank”. Hoop tricks are just one piece of the puzzle, and I hate to see aspiring hoopers get caught up on self-comparisons based on technique.”
For a long time, I used to see the difference between hula hooping and hoop dancing as a difference between technique and flow. I figured if it’s just a bunch of tricks strung together, without much artistic modification, it’s hula hooping. And if it’s focused more on body movement, while incorporating the hoop using fluid transitions between tricks, it hoop dance. Part of me still sees it this way. But part of me is starting to believe it’s a bit more complicated than that. When it comes down to it, you can’t really have one without the other, and you can’t really call yourself a hoop dancer without demonstrating qualities of both.
Hoop dance is the artistic blend of hula hoop technique and dance technique. This means that in order to pursue it, you must invest time in both the technical study AND the conceptual study of your dance form. I see a lot of hoopers out there criticize themselves for not having a larger “trick bank”. Hoop tricks are just one piece of the puzzle, and I hate to see aspiring hoopers get caught up on self-comparisons based on technique. These hoopers usually have less tricks, but a higher ability to confidently dance from one to the next. Similarly, there are many hoopers out there that have outstanding technical skill, but can get through an entire 3 minute song without moving around the camera frame at all. Without intentional transitions, there can be no lingering emphasis on any one trick…they will all just blend together into one crazy-impressive demonstration of technique, without any actual dance present.
“Hoop dance is the artistic blend of hula hoop technique and dance technique.”
So next time you pick up your hoop to practice, remember to exercise some perspective on your personal hooping style. Are you a technical hooper that could use some work on the dance surrounding your hoop? Or are you a flow-y hooper that may want to go expand your technical skills? We are all learning here. And we can all help each other become better Hoop Dancers. We just need to remember what that means.
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