The Hoopcamp Retreat, which takes place every September in Santa Cruz, CA, seeks to bring together a large and diverse group of hoopdancers for a long weekend of intensive learning, skill-sharing, and communion. Every year seems to be a smash hit—the event has almost doubled in size twice over since the inaugural gathering in 2008. Every year I am staggered and humbled by the breadth and depth of hoopgnosis to be found there. Today, I am more staggered and humbled than ever.
The teaching at this year’s Hoopcamp Retreat made an electron-leap into a whole ‘nother level of sophistication and mastery. As hoopdance matures into its own distinct art form, so the teaching of hoopdance must evolve to match the diversity and subtlety of its subject. I’m moved to comment on several teachers’ presentations this year, knowing that there was much more great teaching to be praised in the workshops I had to miss due to my instantaneous and overpowering obsession with the Roue Cyr (more on that in a moment!)
My most favorite teacher in the hoopiverse, Jonathan Baxter, opened the event with a group hoop meditation as only he can. One of the most meaningful things for me about the rest of the weekend was overhearing first-time Hoopcampers rave about Bax’s inimitable teaching style. “And I love Baxter! He’s the man!” I heard more than once, as I power-walked (there was no other way to walk) through the hilly grounds of the beautiful Pema Osel Ling retreat center. To myself, I would smile and think, “I know exactly what you’re talking about.”
My dear friend and evolutionary sister, Christabel, gave darshan in her white garb as she guided us on a journey through the chakra system, spiraling ever closer to the healing wisdom held within each of our bodies. Despite having begun to awaken to this understanding some years ago, I now marvel at how well-squirreled-away some of this wisdom still is, how I still unconsciously starve myself of the healing information so directly and readily available to me through my own embodiment. Christabel’s voice sweetly and generously invited me to look ever deeper and with patience, letting understanding bubble up from the lowest chakra and simply rise, without effort, into something I could use. So much of my growth into divine feminine power has been directly inspired and modeled by her (and the Divine Feminine Power Posse that includes Jasmine, Serena, and Hannah & Kamala who were also all at Hoopcamp! What blessedness!) and my gratitude knows no bounds. A thousand Oms.
Because I was teaching the next morning, I missed Circus Conspiracy’s Brian Thompson who was sharing a bit of his mini-isolation genius. I’m still a bit wistful about this. I had looked forward to learning from Brian for months (and to finally getting my hands on the Roue Cyr!!! But more on that in just a second!!) but though I quasi-stalked him I never got a minute to pick his big brain. At our last jam I did finally get to watch him work with my own set of mini-hoops, and just soak in his—really there is no other word—perfect technique up close. So deliciously inspiring, my oh my!
I did, however, finally get to take a class with another master isolationist/juggler, the one and only Rainbow Michael. He works with multiple mini-hoops and specializes in four-hoop isolation patterns. Each hoop is a different color, emphasizing the wonderful mathyness of this type of object manipulation. His class introduced simplified patterns with two hoops and proved to be extremely user-friendly, which was very gratifying to the unmathy (myself). I would have loved to spend more time just repeating each exercise, an observation which gives me the perfect opportunity to plug my big suggestion for next year’s Hoopcamp: Project Add-A-Day! I am trying to start a worldwide movement dedicated to adding another day into next year’s Hoopcamp. If you want to join the movement, either comment on this blog, start a Facebook group, or contact Heather Troy (fearless leader of Hoopcamp since its inception!) directly. This project has the potential to introduce the Wide Smile Of Happiness to each and every Hoopcamper in 2011. It’s a worthy goal, and I hope you will consider making your contribution today.
Shakti Sunfire, whose small-group facilitation impressed me greatly at the first Hoopcamp two years ago, offered solid gold nuggets of technique in her class, reflecting the signature precision in her dance. Her expertise shines in combining sweeps through the vertical plane with body rolls and very specific and subtle manipulations where the hoop touches the hand. I loved being taken out of my comfort zone (on the core, more loose and open handwork) and challenged to try new grip switches and antispin rolls (so easy in the grass!). Thinking of her I remember the old Victorian-era compliment: “She is a joy, and could only create unhappiness by being absent.”
Shakti’s real-life little sister, Luna Breeze, set a new standard for first-time Hoopcamp teachers with her rock-solid confidence and the accomplished understanding reflected in her teaching method. Only twenty-two years old (could *I* have taught *anything* with such aplomb at twenty-two? Most decidedly NOT) Breeze’s technical breakdown of multiple core hooping set realistic goals for her students, allowing everyone to understand and practice the steps that would eventually lead to having 4 or 5 hoops spinning around their core, instead of rushing forward to get 4 or 5 hoops spinning around the very few students who might have had a chance at doing so. Most new hoop teachers (myself included) have a lot of trouble grasping how radically they must slow down in order to allow students to take in new information. Breeze had us feeling the sensation of multiple core hooping with only one hoop–we were allowed to ‘pretend hoop’ (a concept that needs its own fan page) around our knees while waist and shoulder hooping. She also introduced the “numbers game”: bringing additional hoops to the waist and shoulders one revolution at a time. This echoes our HoopPath practice of teaching shoulder hooping one revolution at a time and it is a great approach to encouraging new growth in core hooping. I am unable to give Breeze enough props— she is just amazing! She also invented this indescribably weird and wonderful double-hoop dreamcatcher which must be seen to be believed. See a clip of Shakti & Breeze’s Rothbury performance, featuring this insane hoop, HERE.
Another new Hoopcamp teacher, Jen HoopCharmer, really blew me away with her pro handling of group energy in her guided night class. Everyone was tired, it was just after dinner, some folks had even had a few beers or wine, and yet she had the whole group of us rocking the hoop up and down our bodies for a good hour, smiling and laughing all the while. She is a stunning young woman, a six-foot tall ex-Marine who took to hooping like she had never worn fatigues a day in her life. She exudes celebratory energy and you could feel that she gave her class her all.
A class that made a deep and lasting impression on me was Nayeli Michelle Bouvier’s Sadhana of the Circle. Though we have been connected for years and she is one of my favorite female hoopers of all time, I had never before had the chance to take a class from her. Her excellence as a teacher shone through immediately in the way she structured exercises. A highly experienced yoga practitioner and teacher, she showed a unique capacity for recognizing how to home in on simple frames through which students can experience heightened nuance in their movement. Strong and rooted in her body, she encouraged us to dig deep into what we already know (or think we know) through repetition, a bold direction to take in the midst of such an unabashed crowd of hoop geeks. She shifted from elemental frame to elemental frame every ten minutes or so, allowing us to really feel the fresh life that comes into old moves with fully established, rhythmic repetition, at the same time leaving plenty of room for playful new flourishes to emerge. Her trust in the sublimity of the simple made this the most rewarding class for me, as this philosophical stance is at the heart of my own practice and teaching. Nayeli, thank you.
Predictably, Rich and Spiral knocked it out of the park with their Hoop Technique presentation, also demonstrating real teaching mastery in understanding the importance of framing. Hoop Technique is all about framing and how it brings new qualities into our movement with the hoop. The curriculum organizes exercises into four rubrics: Space, Time, Energy, and Flow, each frame making a different interpretation of the material possible. I loved seeing everything they have spent so much time and effort on finally come to light. The trailer for their new DVD is a work of art in and of itself—one specific clip of Spiral was an immediate legend and will be talked about for years to come (you’ll know it when you see it. Oh, you’ll know…)
Homegirl Brecken did what she does best and shared her raw and brilliant ideas freestyle in Saturday night’s class. This was a perfect alignment for me since I was starting to crumble physically from all my time on the Roue Cyr (just another minute and we’ll get to it) and the lighting was a little too inconsistent for me to see her or my own hoop clearly. So I was happy to flop down in the grass and just listen to Brecken talk about hooping. Her ideas are constantly evolving and truly limitless. She sees hoop and body primarily as objects in space and is a wellspring of evocative imagery. Her time with our flow cousins in the Vulcan Crew keep her up with their explosive curiosity and constant practicing, making some of this energy available to us. Brecken is like the mascot of hooping, always game to roll around on the ground, jump up and down and make a fool of herself, shoot the shit with anybody, hoop for five hours straight and do all of this wearing whatever she woke up in. I love her and I wouldn’t want her any other way. Brecken, rock on.
This story has a main character and his name is Malcolm Stuart. More than any other hooper on the planet I have longed both to watch and to learn from Malcolm, not only because he is fantastically creative in the hoop but also because I never ever get to see him! He is always wildly busy doing all sorts of interesting things with art and dance all over the place, and even though we now live in the same city we hadn’t even gotten the chance to grab a quick hoop session in a park yet. So I felt it to be my own personal great good fortune that he was presenting at HC 2010.
I hope that my blatant and constant staring at him didn’t cause him any discomfort or anything like that (*awkward, throat-clearing cough*) but if it did, all I can say is, I’m sorry, but there was just nothing else I could do. I had no other available options. I’m just SORRY, okay? What else could I do? I had never gotten to watch you hoop in person except that one time at Burning Man for like 20 minutes! And that was just not long enough, okay? You’re just too good!
So, I just hope he understands. And everything.
So! I spent just about all of my free time either A) watching Malcolm hoop, B) watching Malcolm on the Roue Cyr, or C) trying to get on the Roue Cyr myself—but do I get ahead of myself? The Roue Cyr and David Poznanter deserve their own paragraph and must have it. But Malcolm is the main character of this story not only because I finally got to watch him in the hoop to my heart’s content, but also because his quantum leap over into the Roue Cyr brought the circles together, so to speak. Everything I dreamed was possible is possible—I had the chance to see this in a new way, thanks to him. More on this in a moment (and I promise I won’t say that again).
Malcolm’s hooping itself teaches me because he embodies process. His movement with the hoop constantly searches and discovers, repeating a familiar pattern (a low-pivot-point reverse weave behind the back in Moon, for example) but always seeking a new way to express that pattern. His class explained this aspect of his movement philosophy. Whenever he establishes a movement pattern, he starts to look for a way to vary it—and then another, and then another, and another, and another. But just varying one part of it at a time, while continuously sustaining the “circuit” of the movement (I love this term). His approach is so refreshing in its open-endedness and reminds me a lot of what I hear about process in the visual arts—which makes sense because Malcolm’s primary art form is painting. I have pieced together little scraps along the way about how he approaches movement, but it was like eating trail mix when you want a huge steak dinner. This Hoopcamp was like sitting down to a feast—The Feast of Malcolm!—and it was good.
And, finally, this brings us to my newest crush and obsession: the Roue Cyr (also known as the Cyr Wheel). Over a year ago I saw this beautiful performance on Youtube and was profoundly stirred. I knew absolutely nothing about it and vaguely thought that it had something to do with Renaissance Fairs. When I saw that the Cyr would be at Hoopcamp this year, I could scarcely believe it. It had the aura of an ancient, magic object. Could it be that there would be a real Cyr Wheel? That I could touch? And someone with it who could tell me about it? I pictured a combination alchemist/circus master who would meet with students in a sacred chamber, cauldrons bubbling all around him, and reveal—over decades of apprenticeship—the Secrets of the Cyr.
David Poznanter wasn’t too wide of that mark. A renowned juggling master, he was admitted into a European dance conservatory with no dance experience whatsoever and studied dance 70 hours a week for 3 years just to learn more about movement and choreography. Somewhere in there he saw someone on the Wheel, found someone to fabricate one for him, and spent five years teaching himself how to use it. At the time there were fewer than 100 Roue Cyr practitioners in the world. Contrary to my medieval notions, the Cyr Wheel—which is usually 5 to 6 feet across and made out of aluminum covered with a layer of PVC—was derived from a similar tool in Chinese acrobatics. In the traditonal Chinese acts, only three tricks were performed on the Wheel. It was a ta-da tool, lugged out for big wows in finales. Then about ten years ago someone named Daniel Cyr took one of these wheels, figured out how to fabricate a better one, called it the Roue Cyr, and then (much like hooping’s own Anah Reichenbach) single-handedly developed a greatly expanded, flow-based movement vocabulary on this tool. I take this moment to thank him for his work. How astonishing and beautiful that he could see so much in it.
David Poznanter is based in LA and performs and teaches juggling, contact ball, choreography, and Roue Cyr all over the world. As a teacher I must say he is exceptional. His style is that of the taskmaster, but I found that to be a bracingly welcome challenge amongst we hoopdancers’ fabled (though genuine) tendency to constantly “fluff” one another. He taught not only the Cyr (needing only 30 seconds of observation to give very precise one-on-one feedback) but also one of my favorite workshops ever at Hoopcamp, Movement for Manipulators. He broke open so much for me about choreography and how to discover new interactions with your object. I have never before found a way to enjoy thinking about choreography and clowning. He knows what the hell he is doing. And I thank him for it.
The Wheel…stepping into its center and being the center of spin…is a feeling I cannot describe. Finding the Mother Axis. My class at Hoopcamp was on the Mother Current in which I have been rocked like a baby so often. But being in the Mother Axis…she’s something else altogether. The Center is Balance, the Center is Stillness, the Center is Quiet, the Center is Home. I’m only just beginning to feel and understand this different beauty.
Last night at our mini-Hoopcamp-decom in San Francisco, so happy to be hanging out with our flow brother Khan and his partner Marty, Bax said to me, “Every time I passed by the dining hall I would see either you or Malcolm in that damn wheel” and it was true! An altogether new & unexpected way that Malcolm inspired me was how much mastery he gained over the Wheel in such a short time. Just like watching his hooping, his movement with the Wheel educated me minute by minute, as his movement itself is that specific, defined, and subtle. David had very few chances to demo the Wheel, and really, I didn’t learn as much from watching him because his skills are so highly developed. So again, Malcolm offered me a treasure chest of riches just by going through his own process. I would not have made the same progress on the Wheel this weekend without his example. So again, my gratitude is boundless. Not just for this but for everything I experienced this weekend. For being a part of a community of spinners. For the unbelievable women in this community. For the teachers. For the organizers. For the students. For the Buddhists. For y’all. Thank you.