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Monday, March 7, 2011

Interview with Diana Defries by Janine Haynes

Diana Defries from Hoopswhirled is one of the UK's most prominent members of the hooping community and is known internationally for her involvement in the hoop dance industry and wants hooping to bring happiness to the world. She is the woman who organises amazing hoop dance based social events in fair old London town and is extremely sassy with her hoop dance skills! How lucky we are that she agreed to take the time to answer my Spirit Hoop Cake questions! You’re in for a treat, enjoy…

Diana, thank you for agreeing to answer some of my questions. Can you tell me about your introduction to hoop dance?

Following an accident in the gym when I injured my foot, I was working at home and concerned at the weight I was gaining through lack of exercise (I could just about hobble between my computer and the kitchen…!) One day I was searching the net and found an ad for a hoop. I believed that using a hoop might help me lose some of the excess pounds which had lodged firmly on my behind!

When I bought my first hoop, I had no idea what hoopdance was and I struggled just to keep the thing moving! Eventually (after lots of searching) I began to find a few videos showing various hoop moves and people dancing with their hoops, although nothing like the information that is available today! So my introduction to hoopdance was a virtual one.

What was it about hoop dance that attracted you to it?

From the outset, the spiralling vortices and flowing movement of hooping were surprisingly compelling. My rudimentary forays into hooping suggested it may offer more than just an alternative route to weight loss. Each tantalising glimpse of possibilities – just here and there - kept me coming back to the hoop. The more I find, the more there is to explore. The journey seems far more important than the destination – if indeed there is one.

How was your learning process initially? Were you self-taught, did you seek learning from others?

Self-taught at the outset, my initial learning process was solitary and sometimes frustrating. I learned slowly and gradually made discoveries about the relationship between me and my rainbow circle, long before I found videos and other information online. However the pace of learning did not matter to me as I was having so much fun! It was a process of rediscovering playful movement. Although I tried to find other hoopers in the UK, my initial searches were fruitless – it seemed that all the hoopers offering guidance were in the US. It was during those searches that I found out about Hoopgirl and her (then very new) teacher training program.

You have an interesting background relating to movement, dance and body conditioning, can you tell me about that and how your background aided your relationship with hoop dance?

My background includes ballet, tap and modern dance, as well as ice skating – which I took very seriously for a while, martial arts and bodybuilding. I was a competitive bodybuilder and also trained as a competition judge. During my bodybuilding years I was also a performer, actress and dancer.

All this experience has become a rich and varied resource for my own hoop practice and for my classes.

I’m also intrigued to have learned that you had no preference to the direction in which you hoop. If you can, can you explain how you’ve successfully managed to learn hooping in both directions with such ease and grace? What factors/ways of thinking/attitudes contributed to this?

You are very kind to describe me as hooping with ease and grace - it doesn’t always feel that way! Keeping the body balanced for optimum function has become very important to me and I was concerned that using a heavier hoop in one direction could create muscular imbalance. I also assumed that everyone hooped in both directions! So I learned to do each move in both directions, practicing as many permutations as I could find. While it seldom felt easy, and in many ways slowed the learning process, the net result is that I don’t really have a dominant direction, although it would be fair to say that my initial preference was to hoop clockwise and I sometimes default to that when I am tired or learning something new and challenging, although this is not always the case.

Did you master a new trick hooping in both directions from the outset, or did you learn a few moves in one direction before learning it in the other direction? Was your rate of learning in both directions equal or was one direction easier to negotiate than the other?

When I try (or discover) something new, I’ll most likely repeat it on whichever side I found/tried it until it makes sense and can be repeated. Once I can repeat it with some degree of consistency, I’ll switch to the other side / hand / opposite direction and try the move ‘the other way around’. While this may not work for everyone, I have found that this kind of switching between sides / directions helps embed a move or sequence more effectively. This was my approach from the start. Some moves remain stubbornly smoother one way than the other, although I’m working on that!

Can you offer any advice or tips to hoopers who struggle to hoop in their opposite direction?

Using hooping on the waist as an example, I guess the best thing is to remind yourself that, you are using the same muscles, the same bones, and the same brain – only the hoop direction has changed! To get used to a move in the less familiar direction, start by exploring the move in your stronger direction (dominant / inflow / first current). Focus on your breathing (are you holding your breath?) and notice whether you are tense and how you are holding your body. Become aware of your posture, the position of your head, where your hands are. Notice which foot is forward, see if you can feel your spine and pelvis and how they are moving. Familiar is outflow,e yourself with all your movements (and then take a moment to congratulate yourself on doing the move successfully). When you feel ready to try your non-dominant direction (non-dominant / outflow / second current), the key is to notice what changes as you explore the other direction and how those changes have affected the move. Are you leaning forward? Have you changed the way you are pushing the hoop? Do you need to change the position of your feet? Are you looking down and watching the hoop? Awareness of nuances of movement, and any postural changes you have made, will help you compare the two directions and make adjustments until they ‘match’. You can apply these principles to ‘off the body’ moves, too. Awareness is the key. Repetition with awareness will teach your body what it needs to know.

Do you have any particular hoop dance move that you like the most? What is it about that move that you like so much?

If I have to choose, then I’d pick hooping around the shoulders. It was very hard for me to learn and makes me smile every time I do it now!

I know that you’ve forged amazing relationships with some of the worlds best known hoop dancers like Diana Lopez and Christabel Zamor for example, how has both Christabel and Diana’s influence impacted on your outlook and approach to hoop dance teaching, performing and your own journey with the hoop?

Both Christabel and Diana are powerful women with a great deal to offer the world. Each of these teachers has helped me in different ways. Different teachers offer different perspectives which can be very helpful.

Hooping has changed my life in so many ways that it would take too long to go into all the details here, suffice to say that each of these teachers has given their time and knowledge very generously and provided inspiration and support for my own hoop journey. I am very grateful to them for their help and support along the way.

Hoop dance has had a huge profile in America, do you think the UK is ready to embrace hoop dance in the way that it has been in the States? If not, why not? What is it about hoop dance that sometimes causes reticence to those unfamiliar to it? How can hoop dance be more digestible to the mainstream market in the UK?

Traditionally, we Brits are often up to 10 years behind the States in taking up trends, so hoopdance is doing quite well, really! People need to experience hooping and hoopdance in order to understand the appeal and change their perception that hoops are only for children. Perhaps thinking of hoops as toys is what puts some people off. It is up to us, as hoopdancers, to show those with reservations just how much fun they are missing. No-one should be forced to do anything they don’t want to do, but folks can sometimes be encouraged to try something new if it looks like fun. To that end ‘taster’ hoop events and similar occasions can offer an opportunity to entice others into the joy of the hoop. Whether it will ever become ‘mainstream’ is difficult to say.

How do the attitudes towards hooping in the USA differ from that of the UK?

We sometimes get the impression that ‘everyone’ in the USA is hooping, but I don’t think that is generally true. Hoopers are in the minority. People are still discovering hoopdance on both sides of the Atlantic. Hooping will probably remain a minority activity, so it is difficult for me to give a definitive reason for variations in attitudes to hooping either here or across the pond... Perhaps we simply need to acknowledge that each of us is unique and accept those differences we encounter as part of life’s rich tapestry!

Hoop dance sits in two camps predominantly both as a dance/movement form and as an exercise practice. In my limited experience some gym members find it too much of a low impact sport, can you detail how hoop dance is a viable exercise approach? How does it aid body conditioning and specifically how does it function as a cardiovascular exercise?

Exercise aficionados often want to ‘feel the burn’ as an indicator that they have worked hard. Hooping is a low-impact activity for a beginner and, as such, less likely to release sufficient lactic acid to produce a ‘burn’. However, the benefits of hooping as an effective cardio-vascular fitness builder should not be underestimated. Waist hooping works very specifically on the core by tightening and conditioning those areas which support our day to day health and function. Additional benefits from hoopdance (on and of the body moves and flowing between the two) include improved coordination and balance, a more flexible spine, better reflexes and enhanced spatial awareness. Hand hooping can exercise the shoulders, arms and back muscles and passing the hoop under each leg and around the body helps energise the limbs and improve circulation. Hooping can be as intense as your body will allow.

It is worth remembering, however, that anything practiced regularly will have an effect on the body, whether that activity is yoga, stretching, rock climbing or hooping.

How has hoop dance impacted on your life? What benefits has hoop dance had on your physique?

Hooping/hoopdance has changed my life. What began as rehabilitation has become a regular discipline that provides a place of salvation, a source of joy and a means to combat those moments when life can be intensely challenging. My hoop is a tool for personal growth and change, as well as being a companion in the dance of life. Aside from the considerable psychological and emotional benefits, I have found my way back to being nearly as fit as I was before the injury. I have lost a good percentage of the excess weight I gained, become more flexible, and reconnected with a profound sense of physical self-awareness and the joy of being alive and expressing that joy through movement.

You successfully run one of the best hoop dance social events at your Sunday Hoop Club and I’ve forged many friendships and had so much fun from having attended, what gave you the idea to run the monthly hoop club and over the period of time it’s been in existence how have you seen it grow and develop?

The Hoop Club began as an idea to help hoopers connect. There had been a few attempts at outdoor gatherings during 2007, but the excessively wet weather soon put the kibosh on any grandiose plans. Jackson’s Lane had been closed for major refurbishment since the end of 2006, and I booked space for the very first Hoop Club as soon as I realised it had reopened. At first I thought it would be difficult to find hoopers who would be interested, but more and more people have appeared each month. People have met at the Sunday Hoop Club and become good friends. It has been a joyful privilege to offer a special space for hooping and watch this event take on a life of its own. I’m very grateful to the hoopers who have supported the event, enabling my initial concept to grow into a regular event people enjoy and look forward to. I’m excited to see what it will become during the coming year.

I know that you inspire other hoopers with your skills as a hoop dancer and as a teacher. Who inspires you and is there any performance of hoop dance that particularly took your breath away?

Thank you - I am inspired by all kind of hoopers: those who are well known and loved who hoop with style and grace, as well as those who are innovative and energetic showing exuberance and flexibility.

I am also inspired by those who struggle to achieve the most basic moves – the sense of joy when a new hooper ‘gets’ a move for the first time is incredible. There are more and more amazing performances being posted online and I’m reluctant to single out just one – hoopers inspire one another.

There is a lot of hula aerobics about at the moment too, in your opinion what separates hoop dance from hula aerobics? How are the benefits different?

Hmmm….My understanding of hula aerobics is that it comprises mainly ‘on the body’ hooping, while hoopdance is a broad flow of moves both on an off the body. The first is more about burning calories and trimming the waist. The second offers the same benefits combined with a sense of flow and being present ‘in the moment’. Ultimately the benefits could be seen as being broadly similar, but hula aerobics lacks the complexity of hoopdance and is probably better suited to gym classes.

I’ve noticed that there’s a big difference between teaching children and adults. Children seem a lot more fearless than adults in their approach to learning, do you think there is any reason for this?

We learn to be afraid as we grow up. You have only to watch an infant learning to walk to recognise utter single-minded, fearless determination. Small children don’t care about making mistakes. They have no concept of ‘failure’ - they just keep trying to walk until they can do it. This is the purest form of learning – just keep doing it… until you are ‘doing it’! On the other hand, adult learners want to be perfect immediately. They fear ridicule and being ‘not good enough’. This ‘adult learner syndrome’ varies from one learner to another. It seems we adults have forgotten how often we tumbled as we learned to walk. Remembering how we each successfully overcame that early challenge can be a useful way to combat the tendency to give up when perfection is not achieved on the first attempt.

Music is the back drop to hoop dance, what tunes excite your hoop dance experience at the moment?

My musical tastes are best described as eclectic. I’m always looking for new music for classes and often listen to music with the hoop in mind. The best pace for classes seems to be around 130-135bpm, but this is by no means the only pace that works. I love hooping to music by different artists – anything from Leftfield to Annie Lennox, System 7, Massive Attack or Moby, to name but a few. As with many things, the mood I am in prior to hooping dictates what I play when I practise. I prefer music with layered complexity rather than more simplistic pop tunes.

I’ve been a big fan of your website and really love the section about world hoop day, I didn’t know about it to attend this year, can you tell me what I missed out on and how the popularity of this event is growing? Do you think we’ll succeed in the vision of world hoop day which is to have the “Whole World Hooping” by 2012?

World Hoop Day provides a broad umbrella for the altruistic sharing of hoop ideals and activities throughout the globe. The challenge we face in the UK is usually wet or windy weather, so ideally we need to find somewhere large enough to accommodate lots of hoopers but sufficiently weatherproof to withstand the changeable climate. It would be wonderful to have the whole world hooping on 121212 and collective effort is probably the only way! Next WHD is on 090909 and the sooner we put the plans together, the more likely we are to make it a success here in the UK.

I really enjoy your themed hoop events like your Halloween party and your Xmas themed hoop club, what exciting Hoopswhirled things have you got up your sleeve for 2009 that you can tempt us with?

Hooping brings out the child in each of us and children love dressing up, which is why I like themed events (any excuse to dress up!!) I have some ideas for events in 2009 and will let everyone know when they take shape – details will appear online (Tribe, Facebook etc) and, of course, on my website: