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Oh please! Who said men don't hoop? I can tell you there are many men out there who are young, attractive, dynamic and imaginative and hooked on the hoop just as much as the ladies are! I have seen a few men hooping myself and they look stunning, not to mention HOT. So to encourage the men out there who want to try hooping and to perhaps inspire those who used to view it as a women only activity to change their minds and get involved in the vibrant and rewarding world of hoop dance, I found Gary Johnson, a young male hooper from Burlington, Vermont, USA who has awesome skills and was willing to succumb to my, hopefully charming, questions!

Gary thank you so much for agreeing to this and for being the first ever male hooper I've had the pleasure of interviewing!


Tell me about the first time you encountered hoop dance? What was it about it that got your attention?

Well, Janine, the first time it really came to my attention was at a dance club in Burlington called Metronome.  I had gone out early one evening to rock the dance floor (which is how I usually like to spend my weekend evenings), but when I got into the club, the floor was empty except for one girl.  She was wearing a fantastic costume with a painted face and glitter all over her body, and she was almost bellydancing in this slow, sinuous way in her hoop.


Usually, when I encounter an empty dance floor, I rush in and rock out by myself until everyone else loosens up and comes to dance with me.  This time I was totally mesmerized by the hooping, and I just stood frozen like everyone else watching her for quite awhile.  Eventually though, I shook myself out of it and joined her on the floor, after which the evening proceeded as usual.


Later that evening, I bumped into the girl again, whose name was Mona (who you have also interviewed) and asked her what her dance was called.  She told me it was called hoop dancing and that she practically lived with her hoop night and day.  I was definitely impressed, but at that point, I didn't think I could get into it, so I went my own way.


Less than a week later, I saw Mona performing again on stage at another huge dance party, and just as before, she totally hypnotized me.  Again, I thought I should definitely learn it (most specifically because it worked so well with a house or trance beat, which I find otherwise somewhat challenging to dance to for an extended period), but I didn't have any idea where to start.


Once you decided you wanted to learn hoop dance, what was your next move? Did you go and find classes in your area or did you begin to practice alone?

Well, both of these encounters with the lovely Mona "ShpongledHoops" Qaddoumi happened in the summer of 2008, but it wasn't until the end of that August that I happened to run across some hooping videos on YouTube quite by accident.  In this case, it was SaFire's hoop dance to Misery Business.  I immediately thought of Mona and spent the next few hours watching more hooping videos on YouTube to get a better feel for it.  Then quite by coincidence (and what a most excellent coincidence it was!), I happened to pass by my University's activities fair, and there before me was a poster for a hoop dancing club started by Mona Q!


Obviously, I joined up right away, but I spent the rest of the week leading up to the first practice glued to my computer, studying hoop dancing videos, taking notes on moves and move combinations, styles, big names, etc.  I was so inspired that I rushed out and bought the materials to make a bunch of hoops and built one to practice with before I had even gotten to my first club meeting.


You should have seen me though.  In the couple of days before I built my first hoop, I was so obsessed with it that I was "air-hooping" around my house, trying to imagine what the various moves would feel like if I got them right.


For the past school year (Sept-May), I practiced with the hoop club twice a week, and seeing everyone's individual journey with the hoop there has definitely been inspirational to me and a constant motivator to keep going on my own path.  At the same time, I have to admit that most of my really solid "dirt time" was just hooping on my own, in my yard or in the local parks or woods.  Most of the tricks I know have come from watching videos online and trying to break them apart and recreate them.  Additionally, several of them have come from Mona's wellspring of creativity or from other students that I've practiced with.  And of course, every now and again, I stumble upon something that I haven't seen anyone else do before.  This is decidedly more rare, but it's always exciting when it does happen.


What is your focus when learning hoop dance? For example were you focusing on acquiring many moves or to indulge in the hoop going around your waist or perhaps focusing on being more present or to interact with music.

Well, as I said earlier, I'm a dancer at heart, and absorbing and channelling music with my movement is one of the greatest pleasures I know.  At first I was really just focused on learning the core moves and then trying to amass enough tricks that I could make my dancing look interesting.  I suppose it's that way for a lot of us though.


However, once I reached a level of familiarity with the hoop that I felt confident really dancing in it, that's when my objective shifted somewhat.  I still love learning new tricks, but at this point in my journey, I am most interested in finding that more perfect dynamic flow that makes even the simplest move look really effortless and stunning (like Baxter's barrel rolls and Earth Angle hooping in his "Spilt Milk" Youtube video).


Another really important facet of my hooping practice is trying to attain symmetry in my motions.  I try to practice every move I know in forward and reverse currents and on either arm or leg for extremity tricks.


I guess in a word, I'm just seeking Flow...within the circle, within the music, and within myself.


What was your biggest challenge to overcome as a new hoop dancer? Was there anything in particular that took you longer to learn, how did you keep your motivation stimulated? What move excites you the most? :o)

This is perhaps a bit silly, but my biggest challenge as a new hoop dancer was making myself put the hoop down and deal with my other work.  I got really rather attached to my hoop, and after one trip without it, I felt so incomplete that I started carrying it with me everywhere on the train.  If you've never ridden a train in the US, let me tell you that this is not a completely simple task.  The conductors were constantly giving me funny looks and reminding me to keep an eye on that big ring thing of mine.  Also, I use a road bike as my primary form of transportation year round, and carrying a hoop over your shoulder on a bike during snow and ice season is just as tricky as it sounds.  Whew!


The hardest thing for me to learn was definitely leg hooping.  I don't know if the ladies' anatomy is just better suited for it or what, but it took me awhile until I could easily bring the hoop down and up on my legs or hoop on one leg consistently.


As I said, motivation was not my problem.  I just put on some music every other evening, went out in my yard, and danced until I couldn't stand up any more.  I got plenty of bruises, but I treated them with pride like the hard-won battle scars they were.  My skill level kept improving, and the fun of it all was more than enough motivation for me.


Okay, there are a lot of exciting moves out there, but probably the tricks I like the most are paddling and reversals, which is why you see them so much in my tutorials and dance videos.  They may not be the flashiest in the box, but they provide a LOT of opportunities for gaining a greater dynamic control of the hoop's speed, direction, level, and overall rhythm.


Tell me about your hoop. What size do you tend to work with and have you adjusted the size since you began to get more experienced in hoop dance? How did you find your favourite hoop? Describe it to us as I'm keen to learn what a man looks for in his perfect hoop!

I've made quite a few at this point and played with a number of sizes and thicknesses.  At first, I tried out 100psi 1" tubing and made a few hoops of different diameters ranging from the height of my sternum to my belt line.  The larger hoop was my first one, and I feel that its relatively large weight and slow rotational speed was very helpful as I was first trying to learn the fundamental moves.  It also had the effect of strengthening my arms quite a bit, since performing isolations with such a large heavy hoop was no easy task.


The second, smaller diameter (although just as thick and almost just as heavy) hoop helped me to speed up my moves a few notches, and relearning all those tricks with a different speed and weight hoop definitely left me with a greater ability to adapt to other size and weight hoops that I picked up to play with from time to time.


Somewhere along the way during my work with the second hoop, I started really getting into more hand and arm tricks, and I found that the weight and thickness of the tubing was really slowing me down.  At this point, I got some new materials and made a few 160psi 3/4" hoops. I again varied the diameters a bit to figure out what worked best for me at that weight and thickness, and I found that right around the belt line or bellybutton was still the best for the kind of dancing I wanted to do.


Since then, I have played with a number of other hoops, including some really lightweight and small ones, and although hand hooping is definitely easier with a lighter hoop (100-125psi 3/4" for example), I find that the amount of flex in such a hoop makes for slower, less crisp reversals when core hooping.  So really it's a matter of taste, depending on what kinds of moves you do more of.


These days, I'm still rocking out with my 160psi 3/4" belt height hoops for most of my dancing, and I'm thinking of making a few small 100psi hand hoops for special occasions.  Additionally, I should mention that I left my current hoops untaped (which makes them much more slippery) as a means of keeping them lightweight.  I find the

160psi hoops with a lot of tape can be a little slower than I would like for some of my chest reversals.


So right now, I am thinking that a 125psi 3/4" belt height hoop with heavy grip tape, might actually be perfect for the style of dancing I want to do, but we'll just have to wait and see until I get the materials for this next project.



Gary you have some seriously cool moves at your mercy, wow! I notice you use your arms a lot in your dance. What gave you the confidence to play with movement this way? It’s kind of essential to engage the arms with hoop dance yet too often we keep our arms un-released or feel fear of playing with movement, how would you encourage people to express themselves more?

I picked up the arm movements after seeing some of Baxter's Youtube videos.  His warrior style has been a major influence on my own hooping development.  Although I have yet to meet him in person, I've studied all of his videos pretty carefully and worked hard to reconstruct what I'm seeing and then extend it to the best of my ability.


The great advantage of engaging your arms and hands in hoop dancing is that you have a much increased ability to stop the hoop, change height and direction, stall, and perform very rapid transitions on and off the body.  Additionally, although it may appear that my hands and forearms are doing most of the work when I'm using these techniques, it’s important to note that the upper arms and elbow "cradles" are also a huge part of maintaining control of the plane on which the hoop spins.


With regards to hoopers who are seeking ways to express themselves more, I would suggest four things:


1) Watch as many hoopers doing their own thing as possible.


2) Try to replicate anything and everything that you see.


3) When you goof up the moves you're working on, examine your motions to see if your "interpretation" of the moves may actually lead to something that you haven't seen before.


4) Smile while you play, laugh when you make mistakes, and don't be afraid to look a little silly.  That'll stifle your creativity faster than just about anything else.


Do you support your hoop dance with any other physical activities? If so what? Did you do any other kind of dance or movement practice before you encountered hoop dance?

I get around town using a road bike everyday, which keeps my legs, butt, and forearms in shape.  I love to hike and play in the woods whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Most importantly, I dance more or less constantly - at school, at home, in stores, walking down the street, wherever.


I've been going out to the local dance clubs every weekend for the past several years for a hard, sweaty dancing session of about 4-6 hours total.  And I have been known to breakdance spontaneously as the mood hits me. ;)


I've studied/engaged-in at one point or another (some classes, some self-study) Breakdance, Popping & Locking, 80s Dance, Tango, Waltz, New England Contra Dance, Modern, Karate, Aiki-Jujitsu, Kenpo, and Kung-Fu.  These days, I mostly just freestyle dance, breakdance, and of course, hoop dance.


I really enjoy your YouTube clips and wanted to ask you more about paddling. Can you explain what it is for those who've never encountered it and also tell us how it aids your hooping? Where did you learn it?

The idea of paddling is to drive and direct the hoop's movement while on your chest from within using your hands, wrists, and forearms.  It is an asymmetric motion, in that, depending on the direction you are hooping, one of your arms will cross your body while the other will remain on the same side.  I've made a tutorial video on Youtube (username: lambdatronic) explaining how to put all the parts of the move together.


As I said in response to an earlier question, the great advantage of engaging your arms and hands in hoop dancing is that you have a much increased ability to stop the hoop, change height and direction, stall, and perform very rapid transitions on and off the body.  By gaining more dynamic points of contact with the hoop, you may also increase the stability of your planes, especially when executing breaks and reversals.


I first saw the move on one of Baxter's Youtube videos ("'paddling' to "Book of the Month" by Lovage").  His Aenima video also shows it very impressively strung together with a number of extremely fast reversals and height changes.


After watching those videos a few times, I just worked on replicating the move until I eventually found the groove that made it work.  Some of my earlier videos have some rather sloppy paddling in them, but with practice it has become a real standby in much of my practice.


What has inspired you to share what you've learnt with others?

I love to teach, and when it comes to something as addictive, attention-grabbing, and fun as hoop dancing, it really doesn't take much more than another curious mind to make me excited about sharing my experiences.  In particular, being a member of the University of Vermont's Hoop Dancing Club (and co-president next year) has given me a regular opportunity to meet and share my practice with other local hoopers.  


Here in the UK there seems to be a lot less men hooping than I would like. Is this a similar case in America? Do you have any insights as to why men may feel reluctant to explore hoop dance?

I'm afraid the situation is very much the same here in the states.  Probably the biggest deterrent for men is that hula hooping is seen as a very feminine activity, and many men (being less than secure about their sexuality) are afraid to engage in any behaviour that might make their peers look down on them as "girly."  Of course, the fact that men behave in this way (equating feminine with bad/weak/etc.) just highlights to me the amount of misogyny still rampant in our culture. I suspect that until men come to understand women as their true equals, they will continue to fear giving up their power by acting feminine.  It's a sad situation, but that's how I see it.



What would you say to encourage other men to explore hoop dance? How would you convince them that they can, like you, maintain their masculinity and utilise it in their own dance?

First off, I would have to say that although hoop dancing emphasizes grace and smooth motion, it also requires a great deal of stamina, concentration, and muscle control.  Certainly, most men can identify with these traits even if the first two put them off.


Secondly, I would point out to them that hoop dancing is not cheerleading or baton twirling (which many men will shy away from immediately - not that I have anything against these activities, mind you - just asserting the difference), and anyone who compares them has likely never actually picked up a hoop and given it a try.


Furthermore, it is commonly noted (particularly by women) that men who take up hoop dance often exhibit very different dance styles than their female counterparts.  This is probably somewhat caused by our anatomical differences (larger chests, smaller hips, and more arm strength) and partly influenced by our behavioural differences.


Since there are so few men out there in this community, it also means that there is a lot of unexplored ground for trying to find new moves and styles for men.  I often feel that the hooping women's community has had so many more minds and bodies exploring moves, techniques, and styles that work for them through this art form's history.  The men's community is far, far behind in this respect due to our lack of numbers, but that only inspires me more because it makes me think there is still so much low-hanging fruit to be found.


For confidence boosts, look to other male hoop dancers out there (I'm a huge fan of  Baxter of the Hoop Path and Rich of thehooplab in CA, in particular).


And finally, I cannot emphasize enough:


Hoop dancing is sexy.  Period.  Everyone will tell you so (I know this from experience ;) ).  If you like the ladies, the ladies will love you.  If you like the fellas, the fellas will love you.  If you like both...well, just get ready for the onslaught.  It's really as simple as that.


How has hoop dance impacted on your life?

Hoop dancing has become a daily practice for me at this point in my journey, and I find myself bringing hoops with me wherever I go and stashing them in places I frequent.  It has brought me together with some really amazing and inspiring hoopers in my area, given me an immediately accessible and fun way to blow off stress and frustration, and provided me with numerous opportunities for performing and teaching.  Although I've been teaching various subjects for years, I've certainly never had these kinds of opportunities to perform for both small and large groups, and I'll admit the experiences have been exhilarating.


Has the hoop taught you anything you weren’t expecting?

Definitely!  I rather expected that it would be fun and meditative early on, but one place where hoop dancing has really surprised me and found its way into other areas of my life is in my work with reverse currents (i.e. hooping counter to your dominant direction).  As I mentioned earlier, I really strive to master all my moves in both directions and on both arms and legs as a means of achieving dynamic symmetry.


But of course, learning to hoop in reverse or on your off hand or leg is much like learning to write with your non-dominant hand (never as easy as you might think).  However, with perseverance I have had repeated successes in acquiring reverse current movements.  This had led me to explore doing other things in my life with my non-dominant side (particularly with respect to breakdance poses and dance steps).


How has hoop dance impacted on your physique?

My core is much more toned than ever before.  My arms (upper arms, forearms, and wrists) have all developed quite a bit of muscle, and the muscles in my hands have also grown substantially.  Since I have tended to do most of my arm tricks on my right hand, it is now markedly larger than my left, and I am working on building my left side up to match it.


Are you part of a local hoop dance community? What activities have you been involved in or perhaps if there is a lack of community are you going to initiate one?

I am indeed lucky enough to have a community of hoopers here with me in Burlington, VT.  I have been an active member of the University of Vermont's Hoop Dance club for the past year, and I'll be co-chairing it next year with another student.


I've had several opportunities to perform, both freestyle and choreographed, group, duet, and solo pieces.  Some performances have been with members of my hooping club at various university events, and some have been in downtown Burlington at dance clubs.


I notice you're still in your first year of hooping and have amassed a broad palette of skills, what has aided your ability to learn so much?

Well, to tell you the truth, I'm something of an obsessive learner. When something really, truly catches my attention, I just have to figure out how it works, inside and out.  My background is as a mathematician, computer scientist, and naturalist, so I'm an extremely detail-oriented kind of guy.  With hooping, like with all of my other hobbies, I use the same skills of concentration, memory, and reductive analysis to break apart movements into pieces I can understand and then assemble them back together into the more complicated moves that I'm trying to replicate.


What do you enjoy the most when watching a hoop dance performance?

Most definitely, it's the dancer's sense of flow.  Some performers can look really stiff, as if they are just going through a routine of tricks.  Although the tricks are often fascinating, this kind of performance can quickly feel lifeless to me.  What I like to see when I am watching hoop dance is that the dancer is really lost in their hoop in some kind of ecstatic communion of which I am fortunate enough to observe.  The flow is definitely more important to me than the flash.


Have you got a particular inspirational hoop dance memory you can share, something that happened to you as a result of your hooping that you weren't expecting?

As a matter of fact, I do.


Through my hooping, I came to meet another male hooper named Arseny, who was just starting in at about the same time as me.  At first, he struck me as a bit of a musclehead (about which I am sure he will laugh now), but in getting to know him better, I came to realize that he was really much more sensitive on the inside than he knew how to show.


In the time that I have known him, he has struggled with many of his preconceived notions about masculinity, and I feel very much that through his time in the hoop, he has overcome quite a few of his internal battles and found a confidence and a voice that he did not exhibit when we first met.


Seeing close up how hooping can change another person's life (especially another guy's) has really been inspirational for me, and I imagine he and I will be friends for a long time yet.


I absolutely adore your Beat It hooping clip! You obviously have an interesting collection of music to hoop it up to! Whats on your hooping play list at the moment? What gets you into your hoop groove!

My tastes vary depending on my mood:


Upbeat electronic music often tends toward:

BT, Orbital, Way Out West, Shpongle, Chromeo, Felix Da Housecat, Moby, Daft Punk, Paul Oakenfold, Delerium, PPK, etc.


Sometimes I'm feeling a little slower, and I like a little Bjork, Tori Amos, Glashaus, or something ambient.


When the mood grabs me (and it so often does), I just can't help getting down to a bit of 80s music.  Clearly, Madonna and MJ make the top of the list in those situations.


Finally, when I'm feeling like rockin' the warrior style in a more masculine fashion, I'll play some old school hip hop like Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five or a pretty wide smattering of modern hip hop or dancehall music (Culcha Candela from Germany is possibly my favorite).

Over the next six months what are your hooping aspirations? Any

plans for a website or to start teaching your own classes?

This summer (2009), I'm planning on working on a website, and you'll certainly be notified of it when it comes around.  I am informally teaching hoop dance to some local folks, and next fall I'll be heading up the UVM Hoop Dancing Club, so there will be plenty of time to teach a new round of college students how to rock the hoop.


And although I haven't been able to make any hoop gatherings yet, I'll be at Burning Man this September, so I'm hoping to make a lot of connections then, and we'll see where it goes from there.


Gary, thank you so much for allowing Spirit Hoop Cake readers to benefit from your experiences and knowledge of hoop dance! You rock, dude hooper! :o)


Thanks, Janine.  Keep on hoopin' in the free world!