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What can I say?  If you’ve seen Brecken Rivara hoop dance I’m sure you’ll be impressed with her abundant skill which seems to somehow defy speed, direction and levels!  So many hoopers I know are influenced and inspired by her style.  I was indeed rather shy about approaching this hoop innovator! Would you believe it, she’s extremely lovely and she agreed to answer my questions!  I’m feeling shy and nervous and in situations like that it’s best for me to take a deep breath and begin asking… :o)  Before you read though please watch this clip of her hoop awesomeness!

**Please be aware that this interview is unsuitable for young readers**




Hello Brecken!  Thank you so much for giving me some of your time.  You having a good day? :o)

I’m having a fantabulous day. …oh my god, apparently that’s actually a word.

I've always wondered what your experiences of movement and dance were before you encountered hooping?

I played soccer for most of my life. And I enjoyed theatre (not movement oriented, though). I guess I occasionally danced when I was drunk. I was mostly a painter.

 

When did you first see someone hooping and what was it about it that captured your imagination and compelled you to explore it further?

Hmm. This isn’t the best answer, but it was a groove-hoops demo reel that my friend, Suzy, showed me. It’s funny- when I look back I can still feel that sense of awe in what they were doing, even though it’s nothing I can’t do by now… except for the hand-stand Malcolm does. He’s a beast. 

 

Ok, I know I always ask these sets of questions but I'm interested in your very early days and experiences of learning hooping.  Did you find acquiring those beginner moves easy, which moves, if any, took you a bit longer to master?  What advice or encouragement would you give a new hooper who was experiencing the learning process at a slower pace than they would like

       Man, I had the biggest hoop. And I loved shoulders (like duck-out style). But mostly it was a whole lot of core hooping for a while. When it came to off body I know I built off of a handful of basics, and they did get more ambitious over time. But it luckily became more of a contact thing, where I’d basically just flail around ignoring the hoop and somehow recover. The path it took getting back to me was the new move. And the more I acquired the faster new ones came. It got exponential, where the more I discovered the more I felt there was to discover …I might also mention that I was somehow under the impression that everything I did was completely unprecedented. It’s actually funny looking back, how much of my momentum was gathered under the assumption that I was a f*cking genius, and accomplishing feats not yet conceived of in the history of man. (I hear this is still a trend among a few scattered newbie’s out there)

 

So to the non-delusional beginners: I’d say that things really take off when you’re working toward the development of the art form, as it’s own collective entity…rather than “being an artist” or trying to be. It seems often easy to get stunted by the effort to establish ourselves within a certain element, rather than recreating that element and thus releasing any boundaries we’ve tied to ourselves.

 

Plus, hooping is definitely branching out into a number of genres and there’s plenty of opportunity to get that artist’s high. So you can probably screw what you’ve seen unless it really strikes you and forget about filling in the gaps if they’re not ready. I think you’re more likely to experience a really inspiring evolution when it’s out of curiosity and not a defined accomplishment. But if you can glimpse the feeling of breaking new ground- that’s the practice. That feeling. It’s that level of confidence in your capacity to learn directly from the hoop and yourself that’ll fill the gaps in for you, as needed, if needed. And that’s the process that’s worth it. You’ll know what’s holding you back when it comes up, and it’s that comfort in dance that provides the foundation from which the moves can emminate. So look at other dance forms and combine, or pick one solid move and exploit the hell out of it. Sing. Roll on the ground. Throw it against the wall a thousand times. Whatever. “It’s just a hula hoop,” is sometimes the best thing you can say.

                         

Did you go to any classes to acquire your skills or are you self taught?

Well, I did attend Baxter’s workshop a couple years back, and we’re all still learning and all teachers to each other. But, basically no. I should definitely mention having jammed out with Michele Clark in Baltimore on a regular basis and what a tremendous factor she was in my hooping. In fact, I don’t know if I’d still be doing it without her influence. But as far as a “teacher” goes, it’s really that same old understanding that the hoop is the teacher- which is cheesy, I know. And cliché. But true. It’s just a willingness to watch it play and see what has to be done to allow that (it’s more the opposite relationship now for me, where I do most of the leading and watch it follow me. It oscillates). But early on it was expanding so quickly that it seemed always to be redefining itself and it never really occurred to me to learn “how to hoop” or “what it should be.” The idea always seemed to be not having one.

                                 

I must ask you about your isolations, if I didn't some of my friends might be a little bit sad and upset with me!  :o)  You have sooooo mastered your isolations and transcended what most only imagine they can do.  What did you do to acquaint yourself so well with this style?  Did you practice with mirrors or have a sensory approach?  Spill the details!

Yea, I got a mirror. Helps. It’s funny, though- I’m actually not so hot with isolations about now. Bit of a loose phase. Um… lots of practice, I guess. And concentrating on just that top arc -going back and forth- is its own thing (no hand flip). The “bounce” thing is kind of a top-heavy figure 8, and extension of that arc-tracing. But isolations, specifically are more of a concentration on the center point by now. I’m not sure I really “isolate,” isolate so much. But someone asked me about them recently and I suggested allowing the option to move around and gather a sense of that floating center-point, without the strict attachment to keeping it stationary. I like traversing the vertical plane with an isolation “feel” more that anything. It’s more of a dance for me that way. 

 

Sustained spinning for anyone who is similar to me is hard to master, I get very dizzy indeed, bail out at about 20 seconds if that!  One of the things I enjoy about your dancing is your sustained spinning and the speed you generate and to top it off you change direction quicker than my eye can see.  Any tips for those who struggle with sustained spinning or how to make the best use of it if it can only be done for a short time?

Man, I’m just reckless, is what it boils down to. At this point I’m exploring the mechanics a bit, but really, when I think about spinning in particular, I probably had the right idea back in the day: Which is just doing WHATEVER you have to to stick with the music. It’s nuts; your body will do things you still don’t know “how” to. That happened last night actually, where I found myself carried away and had no idea how it was being maintained. I think you have to push it sometimes to keep yourself aware of how powerful that mental push is on what’s possible. Otherwise: really press your weight into the ground through the ball of your foot (or heel, whatever), and with vertical iso-spinning (aka- the off-body barrel roll or death spin) you just have to pick a spot on the wall to spin toward and make sure you don’t tangle your legs- one foot after the other, single spin on each. Sometimes two. Who knows?

 

Inotice that you play a lot with different planes/levels in your hooping, why is it important, in your opinion to, really explore this aspect?

The million dollar question. Thanks for asking. It’s important because it’s an offshoot of free-range movement. The planes are all just a few decisive moments amidst the space I’ve been focusing on- and its actually not that hard. I’ve described it in class as a rolling coin going around a traffic circle and peeling out in any direction (then you can forget that and feel your body and let it float more). But it’s like catching waves- totally different from cutting through them, as with most swinging. It’s hard to explain, but it basically allows for a more integrated bodily experience by forming, it seems, a new partnership with the hoop where it’s less the momentous leading then it is a focus to the softness it provides while allowing your body to settle and fall and feel the next pull.

 

It also makes it so that you pretty much CAN’T screw up. It’s just further opportunity to go with it at any point and allow your body to follow even the tiniest impulse, knowing that there is no necessary call to straightness. If it falls on you… twist with it, if it twists mid-air then ...wait til you’re planted and follow. Whatever. Let it find a plane on your body or in the air when there isn’t one in motion yet.  It’s getting comfortable with options. …and it makes for some damn nice pace change.

 

It might just be my thing, though- I‘m probably expressing some avoidance tendencies, along with indecisiveness. It’s always hard for me to stick to one element for more than a second (which isn’t the best attribute), and on an even more confessional note, I can admit that a lot of that plane-change originated from being one-directional and finding a savvy way to bounce out of it when I stuck going clockwise. Otherwise, I’ve simply gotten addicted to the looseness of riding the space.

 

You do something that I think is amazing cool, never been able to do, perhaps you can advise me!  In your jaw droppingly good Symbiosis YouTube vid you are hooping around your feet and your shins!  How do I accomplish this and protect my shins at the same time? What's the secret? 

          Hmm… well, I don’t know about protecting your shins. But I would definitely     recommend ankle hooping to everyone. It’s like the goalie. Once you don’t fear letting it        get that low, you tend to loosen up a bit… or at least that’s what I’ve found. It’s actually not that hard and (shh) it’s touching the ground a lot of the time.

 

Ok, let's go a little bit deeper into your movement style.  More than anything the way you move your body is a real pleasure to watch.  It's different to what I normally see and was very delighted to see you without your hoop. What is it that is influencing the style you're developing?  Have you been inspired by a movement practitioner, what is leading your process?

Back in Baltimore, Michele and I used to throw down at break dance battles…there were some pretty sick dancers there thinking “what the fuck is this?” and I watched this dancer, Pina Bausch, for a while. I’ve been spending a lot of time with a contact improv. dancer lately and a ton of jugglers and acrobats. It’s pretty inspiring. But overall, I think it’s mostly hooping- just exaggerating motions that occur in hooping and letting them flow without the added weight of the hoop. I really like the ripple effect and acting all gooey. And I’d REALLY like to take it to the ground more. I’ve been rolling around a lot and the hoop’s catching up. Hehe. Yeah, that’s something leading me a little- how can I fall with this thing and get it to pull me back up? It’s coming along.

 

When you are practicing do you have any kind of structure or agenda (something specific you want to achieve in a session) or completely free flowing?  Can you expand further on how you use your time to experiment and play with the hoop?

I don’t know if I have much of a structure, but I’m sure there are a few consistent elements. I basically figure out what’s tight pretty quickly and then stretch it. Depending on the music, I might just jam out for a while, but I tend to go into a bit of everything and bounce around between genres. If I remember something I haven’t done in a while, I might take it on for a bit- there’s always something to practice that’s not quite as good as it used to be. And if something new comes up, I’ll delve into that for a while; see what needs to be improved on through it or if I can take it further. Lately I’ve been trying to polish my workshop, so I stop a lot to dismember what I’m doing, and thanks to the new performance effort, I’ve been stopping to take notes on what everything “says” to me.  Generally, though, there are a few staples: run around, get low, shake and wiggle, stretch with and without the hoop, dance without the hoop, core hoop while focusing intensely on the hoop, core hoop while dancing freely and ignoring the hoop entirely, and just go with what feels right. I sometimes like to feel the space around me for a while and then compare the difference felt within my body. Chances are, there’ll be a completely different vibe the next day. I bounce around a lot. 

 

One thing that is clear to me is the connection you have with the hoop, a knowing of it and of yourself, evidence of real trust of yourself and your hoop.  What guided and then subsequently cemented this relationship with the hoop do you think?

Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s just practicing a lot. It really goes when you don’t- it’s shocking actually. But I think the bouncing and floating techniques are pretty solid. If I go into them for a while I feel like I have it back …but then that’s just what I’ve been into. I’m sure if I took time with jumping or something I’d see all the kinks.

 

With this connection present comes responding to music.  What music most inspires and ignites your creativity whilst you practice?  What are you listening to at the moment?

I’ve been listening to a lot of Edit lately. That shit’s raw. Love it. But it’s weird- I’ve never been very decisive with music, especially in the past. I never even listened to anything really danceable before hooping.  But it seems now like I’m into the really rough-edged, almost scratchy or experimental sound- anything you’d describe as maybe “playfully deranged” has felt good lately. And I hoop without music almost as much as I do with. It’s just a habit, and more relaxing sometimes without the nagging pressure to follow the rhythm.

 

I know that you have conducted workshops in connection with Baxter of Hoop Path and wondered what the experience of teaching is like for you?  How does your approach compliment Hoop Paths and vice versa?

I’m excited about teaching. And it’s only getting better.  Plus, I’ve been getting to travel and meet tons of people and take in the vibe of different cities. And I’m learning more than I could’ve imagined from taking Baxter’s classes and having him take mine. He’s been teaching hooping full time for three of four years now and truly inspires his students on a consistent basis. It’s intimidating teaching after him, actually. But it’s like a golden-ticket apprenticeship I get paid for.

 

I think our approaches really do compliment each other in the sense that what we hold most important in hooping is accentuated by our vast differences. I mean- we do have some obvious similarities. We both have our eyes closed a lot of the time, no frills, black hoop, sweat pants, and style-wise I think we share a little “aggressive finesse”. But more importantly, we have a similar intensity in hooping and value the grace it provides (I think we’re both naturally angular), and we’re primarily dance oriented and a bit inward (though mine’s been a little externalized with all the off-body).

         

The difference is that Baxter will delve into a single category or motion to the point that he can feel the effect it has on his pinky toe.  He works toward being completely at one with the rhythm and point of contact in finding and generating nuance throughout his entire body. I, on the other hand, share a similar sentiment when it comes to bodily nuance, but have been spending more time in off-body transitional space and like to spin more. It seems I find the nuance within my body before hand and then try to loosen to the extent that it’ll be represented in the hoop, which translates into an array of planar options I can then dive into, whenever my balance tells me to.

                               

 

When teaching what is the most important thing to communicate to hoopers?  Have you got any plans to do any many workshops or courses?

It’s funny- in the past I’ve had to hold myself back from explicitly telling people not to listen to me in class, just because I really do see it as the hoop being the teacher and the individual learning how better to…learn, I guess. It’s also funny when you’re advocating “flow,” and showing up with a set list of plans. But to cut it real short, I’d say to push through with practice. It’s all just about time and loosening up. There’s not much else I can say that’s universal. Not even “have fun.” Sometimes it isn’t.

 

Has anyone else referred to you with Baxter endearing nickname Tsunami? :o)

No, thank Christ. He did coin the term “badass,” though, and that seems to have worked out. …I guess tsunami’s ok, though. He actually went with “lab rat” last we spoke and I was damn pleased with that one… don’t see it catching on though.

 

I really like the way that you dress when hooping, from the shorts and bikini top to your loose trousers and baggy tops, you look really honest to me and some how avoided, lovely that it is, the hoop fashion that seems to have gripped some hoopers.  Is this done consciously?

Ha. Thanks. That is a BIG question, actually. About a year ago someone came up to me at a gathering, looked me up and down and said, “you know what you’re doing.” And by that she either meant that I was making some kind of a purist statement or that I was secretly asking for attention by feigning the opposite. Either way, at the time they were the most refreshing words I could have possibly heard.

 

It’s really just what I’m comfortable in, but I’d be lying to say that it hasn’t brought a mess of conflict, when considering the flippant nature it might exude. Or evoke. At first (…and keep in mind that I was that token pajama-girl in high school and spent the next four years in a painting studio) …at first it was just what I wore to stay comfortable, both physically and mentally, to allow myself to feel low-key and casual enough that self-expression was even possible and that the awareness of an audience didn’t worm its way into my hooping any more than it had to. But it became a real ego trip- throwing down in a t-shirt while everyone else was dolled up. It felt good to show people up like that… and then it just felt rude and had become the ultimate costume. Odd paradox. It reminds me of someone who’s arrogant about their spiritual humility or something. Where do you go from there?

 

Ah well. Now I’m just comfortable.

                               

 

Almost done!  What has the hoop given to you that you weren't expecting?  (ie a better physique or opening up your consciousness or physical expression)

Oh, I didn’t expect any of this shit. That’s what gets me. Um… currently, it’s providing a rapidly increasing respect for a process-oriented mentality. Early on it was a truly startling demonstration in how to learn through letting go and I saw how universal all of our basic conflicts are, as they were able to show up metaphorically with my little plastic toy. I had reached a breaking point with my artwork and perfectionism and thus gave up, exhaustedly, on my search for the profound. It was that abandonment of art and depth that allowed me to re-discover it ten-fold, and –given the simplicity of the medium- realize how far-reaching those lessons are.

 

And now there’s a whole new bag …like in performance for example: I feel likeit’s become about relaxing enough to let it all seep in; remaining substantial enough to draw the attention, only once you don’t need it. There’s a lot of paradox in hooping- as in everything, I guess. It’s the same old game we experience everywhere- where wanting something is the surest way not to get it and you find the idea of something preventing its occurrence. If you stress about hooping well, you won’t. If you try to “be a hooper,” you’re suddenly not one. Maybe that’s too flighty, but if you get too wrapped up with the thought of it, you’ll start to struggle. Not only due to stress but because you’re asking for that game/preoccupation to continue, and avoiding the acceptance of the “nothing” it really is. When you get into the flow, it’s a release of all the shit you tied to it before. It’s like a “nothing” in a way. If you base your identity on it, then you’ve built a wall between yourself and what it actually is, because you won’t want to face the simplicity of it. It’s an erratic roller coaster for me- of giving up and releasing into new development; and then getting excited by the new development, thus wrapped up, subsequently stagnating, getting pissed off and finally giving up…into new release and development. Then I start all over again. Fun, right? Throw a camera into the mix, and the odds of a career in hula hooping, and we got a keeper.

Now, I know your UK fans will want to know this, do you have any plans at all to come to the UK either to play or to teach workshops?  If you have yet to consider it,you will be made extremely welcome by the UK Hooping Community! :o)

I would LOVE to. I’ve never been to Europe, even, and have been itching to see it. Plus, I’m really enjoying the process of exploring different hooping communities. Now that I’m traveling to teach workshops in the US I’m getting a feel for how drastically the style varies by region. Seriously, though… you ever want a workshop and know how to get about 20-30 peeps together, I’m down. Or maybe a gathering. Whatever works.(I’m on it Brecken… easy to get those numbers where you’re concerned!  Exciting!)

 

How do you feel about being such an inspiration to the global hoop dance community?                                                                                                            …Oh, man. Thanks for that. Um…Wow. Without getting to modest here, I’ll just admit that it’s sort of, kind of everything to me. I don’t even know if I can gauge how much of that back-of-the-mind encouragement to keep pushing it factors into my life. It really is a good chunk of my life- hooping. It took me by storm and continues to in different ways now. But it’s a totally irreplaceable affirmation when people thank you for your influence and actually find some inspiration of their own through it. It’s powerfully rewarding every time. Never seems to fade. And that it’s toward an art form I truly believe in makes it all the more satisfying. I’m really very lucky.

Thank you so much for giving me some of your time Brecken, you have no doubt made a lot of peoples day with your words and wisdom, I know you will have done so for me.  I’m sure I speak for all when I say  – you are appreciated Brecken Rivara, all around the world!