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Every now and then it happens. I get a little bit of a hoop crush and there is no better male hooper in the UK than Ross Cleland to be subject to many repeat viewings on YouTube. Fast, skilful, connected, full of flow and exciting to watch. Plenty to hoop swoon at! So of course I want to find out all I can about this talented young hooper. So without further ado I introduce to you officially Ross Cleland! Wahoooo!
















Thanks for agreeing to let me interview you! :o) How’s it going then Ross?
 No problem at all :) I’m really good thanks- despite not being able to go out and hoop at the moment due to the damn rain- it's absolutely tipping it down here in Scotland :(
 
Okay let’s get started! When did you first encounter hoop dance and what was it about it that captured your imagination enough for you to explore it?
 Well prior to my obsession with the hoop- I absolutely lived and breathed juggling and so I bought a hula hoop (completely unaware of its potential) with the intention of using it in a juggling act finale- juggling whilst hula hooping around the waist whilst balancing atop a rolla-bolla (and who said guys couldn't multi-task!). As I began to mess around with the hoop I quickly realised that it could be spun around the chest and the knees as well as the waist and so- suspecting there was even further potential I looked up hula hooping on the internet and was confronted with the legendary "Brecken Tears It Up" video. Mesmerised by the dizzying pace at which she commanded the hoop through the various planes and completely engaged by the unperturbed flow as she leapt and ducked in and out of the hoop- "hoop dance" became an instant obsession of which I have never tired.
 
Tell me about your first hoop? What was your experience when you gave it your first ever spin, did you succeed with it immediately or have to employ techniques to keep any hoop grumps at bay?
I still have that first hoop that I bought for my juggling finale- black with glitter green stripes (34") - although it is a health hazard that I rarely brave these days as the staples that hold it together poke out and threaten to rip me apart. In terms of my first even spin:  Fortunately (because I am a very impatient/just plain lazy person) I could hoop around my waist straight away and basic chest/knee spinning only took 5 minutes to learn.   
 
How did you go about acquiring your skills? If you were self taught how did you maintain your practice and stay motivated and if taught in a class what was your experience of that, how did the instructor guide and inspire you?

Unfortunately- because of my current location- no classes are available to me. I teach myself by watching hoop performances on YouTube and working out any of the moves that I like- and watching the videos provides more than enough motivation to get out there and hoop- although just hearing music on its own results in an intense hoop-craving.
 
Did you find the beginner moves easy to acquire or does it take a fair bit of “hoop on face/nose/head and hoop kisses (aka bruises)” before a move gelled with you? What helps you stay motivated when learning new moves?  

All of what I would class as beginner moves came quite easily to me thankfully. If I can't get the hang of a move straight away then I will just stop trying and come back to it another time- and eventually I can do it straight away. It sounds rather illogical but it seems to work for some strange reason :) To stay motivated I simply imagine in my head how well it would fit into a particular dance sequence and I just keep on envisioning that final outcome! I've never had any hoop bruises - although I did break a took with a hoop once. Literally the day after I broke my tooth a shiny new aluminium hoop arrived at my front door and I sent it straight back in fear of what could end up happening to my face!

 

Do you have a favourite move that you especially like doing? What is about that move that excites you?

At the moment my favourite thing to do is to kick a leg out and then back in the hoop in the space of a single revolution whilst it spins around my knees. It's just a really bold, punchy move and it's a great way to pronounce a strong beat. It was a really tough move to learn though as the success of the move relies on a strong extension out of the hoop, but with so little time its easy to find yourself lifting your leg out and in again without a notable extension. So it was just a matter of practice makes perfect. I only came across the move a short while ago in a Hoopalicious video and I've been hooked ever since!


I notice you are pretty amazing at the duck outs! It took me an age to learn to duck out on both shoulders, have you got any suggestions for hoopers to get as confident with the move as you are? Any tips on the timing of the move for hoopers that are new to it?

I think if someone is having difficulty learning a shoulder duck out then they should initially learn to duck out whilst spinning around with the motion of the hoop as you only really have to concentrate on timing when to duck your head out and in. After you can do this it will be easier to do a static duck out as you are down with the timing and just have to concentrate on positioning the shoulder correctly so that the hoop doesn't fly off.   

 

Another dynamic is your fast transitions, it really is lightening fast. What has inspired your hoop dance to be this way? And what techniques do you employ to be so consistent with your accuracy? 

That's just me showing off! I'm not much of a dancer so I try to make up for it in other ways such as fast transitions- there really is nothing worse than when people neglect transitions and just spend all of their time on tricks. So I spend a lot of time making sure I can snake my way between moves. In terms how I stay accurate - PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE! The only way! 

 

It is quite delightful that you are free with your movements and expressive with your arms and how you occupy space. What is it do you think that has allowed you to be so free with your ability to move while you hoop? 

I think that my hooping journey itself has allowed me to be free with my movements- as the hoop has taught me to cast aside my inhibitions and express myself fully. That's the biggest change that hooping has brought to my life- self confidence by the bucket-load! My parents always tell me how weird it is that I have become a performer as I used to be the shyest person ever- seriously, seriously shy! Hooping was all it took to remove the obstacles that stood in the way of me and it helped me as I searched for my own identity amongst the crowd. 


Your Hooping Adventure video is one of my absolute favourites of mine. Obviously the hooping is incredible but so are the locations that you have chosen. So intense hooping in the wind there Ross! When you make your videos do you have location in mind and do the locations you hoop at influence how you hoop?

Thanks- I had such a great time making that video. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by amazing scenery and it definitely inspires me. To dance- alone- with nothing and no-one around you- only miles of mountains and hills and such like- is such a surreal experience and it has led to many of the most perfect and euphoric moments of my life so far. And it has switched the focus of my videos from being mere displays of skill. I now am constantly seeking to encapsulate the experience and emotions of hooping- even if that means stripping everything right back down to the basics as I did in my "cosmic hooper" video. That video taught me the most valuable lesson I have learnt as of yet in my journey- Hooping is about the hooper- not the hoop- the hoop is only a tool to unlock the potential of the hooper. And this knowledge has allowed me to channel and communicate with my viewers- the emotions that location can bring into the equation. In my "Inspired by Butoh Dance" Video I channelled the location whole-heartedly and allowed my surroundings to possess me entirely- and it resulted in something very different to my normal videos- something I wasn't sure people would understand- but whether people understood it or not- it allowed me to expand as a performer and see a new potential within the hoop.

 

I do not have a location in mind when I decide to make a video- as I only decide to make a video when a location that excites me is discovered. Any location can inspire me at random- whether it’s a big rusty iron gate that runs over a stream, or the darkness of my own bedroom.  


You’re also very good composing and editing your videos. How would you encourage other hoopers who have a flare for video recording and editing to be as expressive as your Cosmic Hooper video? 

I would definitely encourage all hoopers to edit their videos. It's not hard and it can really make your video stand out and look more professional. This is especially important if, like me, you are not simply out there to show skill, but instead are trying convey a message or express emotion. It can transform your footage into artwork in a matter of minutes.

 


How have your friends responded to you hooping? Have you inspired any to learn it or to teach any of them? 

Since they've seen what it is that I do- my friends have all been really supportive and encouraging. They've even come to watch me perform a few times which means a lot. Since I've started to perform I've actually had a few people come up to me and tell me that they want a hula hoop for Christmas after seeing me or that they are going to start hula hooping to lose weight and get fit. And I also saw a Hoop Dance Workout DVD being sold in my local supermarket after I started performing. I'm really proud that I've promoted the hoop within my community and if I can just reach a single person and start them on a journey as fulfilling as mine- then that would just be amazing!   

 

Before you began hooping what was your physical background? Did you juggle perhaps or were you good at sports? Do you see hooping as sport or dance and do you think it even matters which camp hooping goes in? 

As I mentioned earlier I lived and breathed juggling before I was aware of the hoop. I still love juggling- but if I had to choose between the two- hooping would definitely come out on top. I definitely look at hooping as a dance form- a connection of mind, body and soul- but no I don't think it matters how you define it- because the benefits are still very apparent no matter what angle you look at it from.

 

Sometimes I encounter men who seem a bit shy about exploring hoop dance or who do there level best to convince me that hooping is for girls. What would you say to encourage a guy to explore hooping?  How would you convince them that hooping can incorporate their masculinity? 

Hooping is what you make of it! It can be the most feminine thing in the world and it can be the most masculine thing in the world (Baxter/Porter/Arseny all epitomise masculine hooping in my opinion) And furthermore- it’s SEXY when guys hoop dance! AND it builds muscle definition. Essentially- A hoop is just a dance tool- how masculine/ feminine the dance is down to the hooper!

 

I don’t often ask this but I wonder which hoop dancers excite and motivate you?  

My favourite hooper of the moment is a girl named Tiana Zoumer or "wantonamara", to use her YouTube name- She is absolutely insane with minis, like no other hooper I've ever seen. She seems completely immersed in the music at all times and reaches some incredible speeds! Her isolation work is remarkable and you really just have to see her to believe her! Karis is another one of my favourites- he just has a fun and unique act with a great hook (which I totally fell for the fell for the first time I watched him!). I love how he puts so much of himself into his performances. Besides these two I am just inspired by all of the big names in the hooping community- Mona, Hoopalicious, Blue Tornado, Brecken, Malcolm Stuart, GrooveHoops etc. (I really could go on all evening!)

 

Okay, let’s talk multi hooping! I spy with my little eye, Ross hooping with 4? That’s incredible! How do you even separate 4 hoops?! Spill the details! Also is it possible to incorporate some kind of dance whilst hooping with 4 or is it one of your final moves for a performance?

It took me so long to learn a 4 hoop vertical spread! Everyone has that amazing trick that they aspire to- this was mine and I'm so thrilled I got it! I still need to improve on it though. At the moment I start from the bottom and work my way up- separating the hoops with my hands. Now I need to learn to start with all 4 spinning around the waist and without hands, let one travel down to the knee and two up to the chest- and finally lifting one up of the chest and above my head. I can barely breathe when 4 hoops are travelling around me let alone dance :) I just use it as the grand finale at the end of a performance.


Speaking of performance, have you had the chance to perform within your community and if so how were you received and if not is it something you’d like to do?  

Having briefly mentioned to them that I was going to be training as a circus performer when I left school - a teacher asked me if I would do something in the schools production of "We Will Rock You". I decided to hoop as I didn't think that anybody on the island would be familiar with hoop dance. It was my first ever performance after hooping for about a year and a half and the reaction I got was pretty incredible! (I have a video of that performance on YouTube) I kept on getting calls asking me to perform at various events and I was even paid to do it a few times so I felt like a right wee professional! A local newspaper interviewed me too and I was even asked if I would teach hooping to a few schools but unfortunately I had to turn down the offer due to work commitments.

 

You haven’t got a website just yet but I’m wondering if this is something you’re looking into perhaps?

Currently I do not feel the need to create a website as YouTube is a sufficient way to promote myself- although if I ever make it big in the hooping world then I would probably make one to satisfy my ego lol.

   
Another important aspect of hoop dance is music selection and I really enjoy the music you are grooving to. What are you hooping to at the moment? How do you connect your hooping to the music you hear?

I go through various phases of what style of music I hoop to (although there's always room for beats antique in a session!) At the moment I like intricate music with lots of sub-beats, syncopated rhythms, time changes- really quite abstract music such as Pentaphobe. I like to mirror the complexity of the music in my hooping- with lots of popping, locking and breaks. I'm trying to take my hooping in a new direction. 


Let’s talk threads, I really like your hoop wear! How do you go about stylin’ yourself for your hooping? (bit of a girly question I know but just in case any dudes out there are unsure about rocking the male hoop dance style, guidance is required!) 

I guess I must just be a good dresser then lol cos I just wear what I feel comfortable in and what will not obstruct the hoop. I tend to just wear shorts and a vest- pretty much all of my t-shirts have had the sleeves chopped off to make them into hooping vests. If I have sleeves then my chest reversals tend to go a bit mad.

 

So I’ve been a very nosey parker and found a comment somewhere about you auditioning to circus school. Is that the style of hooping your going towards? How does hoop dance differ from circus style hooping? Whatever skills are you hoping to acquire or is hoop what you want to specialise in?

I sent an audition tape to The Academy of Circus Arts and was accepted  (YAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!) I start in 2011 and I really cannot wait! It is Europe’s only travelling circus school (it travels around the UK) and the course is a 5 month intensive- in which you train in all skill areas but eventually specialise in 2 acts that you perform in a graduation show at the end of a course- which circus employers from all over the world will attend. Hoops will probably be one of my final acts but I am really looking forward to training in ariel skills- corde de lisse in particular. I literally dream about being up there, way above the crowd in my own little world- and being paid to do it one day would be awesome!

 

The traditional circus style of hooping (and this is a generalisation) is very much about maintaining a strong posture and constantly presenting to the crowd with your arms whilst building up from one hoop tricks into two, then 3, then 4, and the finale of the routine being as many hoops as you can manage! I am looking forward to devising a traditional routine but would also like to experiment with "Hoop Dance" and see how the crowd react. Contemporary circus is rapidly evolving and I think there's room for the raw and expressive charm of hooping.


Have you attended any of the major hoop dancing gatherings and events, how has what you experienced there informed your hooping or if not are you planning on attending next year? How important is the hooping community to you both in the UK and beyond?

I soooooooooooo would have liked to have gone to UK Hoop Gathering this year but couldn't afford it as I'm saving up for my Circus Training. I've promised myself that one day I’ll go to Burning Man! It looks like such an amazing experience- a strange little world of its own.

 

The support the hooping community has given me from all over the world has made me feel very valued and like a part of something special. It is such a close community as we all share a profound understanding of a whole world that lies within a little bit of plastic.


Almost there Ross! What’s next for your hooping? Where can people see you perform?

I’m just going to continue expanding myself as a performer, becoming more experimental with all aspects of hooping in preparation for my circus training in 2011. I also intend to gain more performing experience- using the crowds’ reactions to gauge what works and what overall direction I should be taking my work in. I will be performing with "The Festival Circus" and on occasion "Zippo's Circus" next April - October at locations all over the UK.

 

Well I’m sure you’re agreed hoopers Ross has got some sick moves, so check out his YouTube channel right here!