Before I begin, I want to be clear about something. I own a smart hoop, and it’s pretty damn cool. It’s a Helix, 31″ Polypro, and I bought it a few years ago directly from Proton Labs. It makes for great photos, my audiences are enraptured by it, and it’s a high quality product with many dazzling features. But here’s the thing…

Smart hoops are overrated!

Why you ask? First, I shared the above to be transparent about the fact that this opinion is coming from a performing artist that owns and uses (sometimes) a smart hoop. Therefore, I have first hand experience with their amazingness and I have no bitter feelings towards hoopers that own them, hoopers who don’t, hoopers who love them, and hoopers who don’t. Just to be clear.

smart hoops are overrated led hula hoopsThe reason I think that smart hoops are not all that great for performance is that they distract from the technical ability of the performer. They are bright, beautiful, techy, and flashy, but all that dazzle and shine leaves the audience watching the hoop–not the hoop dancer. I have spent years practicing and polishing my hoop dance practice, and when I walk on stage with a smart hoop, that technique is lost in a swirl of high-tech patterns and strobing illusions. When it comes down to it, just about anyone could grab a smart hoop and swirl it around their hand to create an amateur light show. Is this truly the direction we want to be taking LED hoop performances?

My Helix has seen many audiences. But every single time I’m on stage, I find myself setting the hoop to one of it’s unlimited solid colors. No strobes. No chasers. No patterns. When I’m being paid to perform a meticulously choreographed hoop dance piece, why would I want all that technique and flare lost in patterned strobes? I don’t. I’m don’t want to hide my years of practice behind a flashy light show, I want the LED’s to accentuate my flow, not distract from it.

smart hoops are overrated
My first LED hoop. A PSI Hoop. 2 circuits.
led hoop psi hoops
The second circuit: “Dragonfly”

My very first LED hoop was from PSI Hoops, owned by the original LED hoop maker, Merlin. It was a simply 2 circuit dragonfly/custom hoop that was made from HDPE and although it was excellent in quality, it was a bit too bulky and heavy for me and my hoop dance style. Next, I graduated to the Helix. Polypro. Light. Customizable. Smart. I was in love. My friends stood in awe around it when I would whip it out around the campfire at night, or during the after-hours of our incredible string of PNW music festivals. It was a hit. But it wasn’t long before I realized that no matter what I did with the hoop, it looked amazing. I could literally stand there holding it in my hand, set to display a chaser or two, and the pure illusion of that ball of light moving around the hoop was enough to amaze onlookers. That is not skill. That is a toy.


Smart hoops aren’t all bad…

Now don’t get me wrong. There are some amazing manipulations and isolations that can utilize these smart hoop functions to amplify their intensity. For instance, doing slow isolations with a chaser as you walk towards a crowd. It’s incredibly cool! If there is any room for smart hoops in skilled hoop dance performance, it is definitely in the area of subtle, face-melting manipulations. But the second you start swinging that hoop around at faster speeds, your technique takes a back seat to the smart hoop’s patterns.

smart hoops are overrated
Backstage at the Dave Matthews, 2011.

I do believe smart hoops have their place in a small niche of the performance world. Clubs and raves. Places that are more focused on dancing than watching a performer. These places might have DJ’s, bright lights, and small dance podiums that don’t allow for much movement. I can see how smart hoops could be perfect for this type of venue. Your audience is there to be amazed by light and music, and since you don’t have a very large space for adventurous dancing, being able to stay relatively still while swinging a patterned strobing hoop around your body could be just what you need.


Performance Hoop Alternatives

There’s a few things about LED hoops in general that I don’t like. This includes both smart hoops and “dumb” hoops. They are heavier than what you practice with most often. Even if you get the lightest one made with polypro, you are still working with more weight than your non-LED practice hoops. This is a downside to me. Hoopers who have fast-paced, reversal-oriented hooping styles will notice the weight difference very quickly. Even if it’s only slight, the extra weight slows down the movement of your hoop. In the past, I’ve even injured elbow joints and wrists, trying to throw the LED around at the same speed I prefer with my regular polypro. The fact that I have to change my hooping style when I switch to LED is not ideal to me.

To be completely honest, the last few nighttime shows I’ve done, I’ve opted *not* to use my LED hoop. (GASP…blasphemy!) Lately, unless the gig specifically calls for an LED hoop performance, I usually choose to sport regular deco-taped polypro hoops OR a UV reactive nude hoop–with blacklight. Although not as bright and flashy as the LED equivalent (whether smart or not), both are eye-catching and beautiful. These have been my go-tos lately and I am enjoying the unlimited nature of these hoops in a performance setting. Plus there’s a bonus…my audience is actually watching me dance with my hoops…not watching the hoops dance with me.

Below is a performance clip from a show I did with My Helix LED hoop a while back. Music is Beats Antique.


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