Defining hoop dance

This week, the Bay Area Guardian featured Christabel Zamor (a.k.a. “HoopGirl”) on its cover. The article opens by stating that “Zamor is a hoopdancer — one of those sylph-like sirens who show up at parties and raves and on the playa in order to make the men drool and the women vow to do sit-ups.” Sylph, in case you’re wondering, applies to a lithe girl or woman, or to a mythical creature whose base element is air.

I would assume this was one reporter’s take on what I do for a living – if it weren’t such a commonly held vision. Over nearly a decade as Revolva, I have come up against the assumption that my hoop act will be based on sex more than a handful of times. More than one hundred handfuls of times. “Can you bring a sexy number?” is a pretty common question I’ve been asked by promoters.

A rare sighting of a sylph without her hoop.

On-body hooping does engage parts of the body related to sex. It rocks the pelvic core and can be an activity that causes women (and men) to feel more confident and at home in their own skin. I have experienced a high and felt sexy and empowered when rocking out with a hoop. That said, I have also felt sexy and empowered when dancing my heart out, when several miles into an intense run, and when I finish writing something satisfying and run around doing ninja kicks in the air.

I feel sexy when I’m fully present in my body, which most often occurs when I’m being my authentic self.

I understand that Zamor’s mantra “Hooping is sexy!” as quoted in the article, is “as much about self worth as it is about a satisfying session in the sack.” Those familiar with her work know that she holds empowerment retreats for women, writes prolifically on spirituality and has embarked on a life path dedicated to helping people heal. Sometimes, simply learning how to feel sexy is a powerful medicine.

Yet, I found some humor in realizing my own mantra (it’s been listed in this blog for a long time) is both similar and very different from the HoopGirl mantra. The over arcing phrase that defines my own path is: “Funny is sexy!”

When I look at the media produced by our culture, I see this:

"Hello, you probably see me every time you open a magazine."

Yet, it aligns with my nature to look like this:

This helmet makes me feel flirty.

In terms of a guiding principle, I have felt the need to remind myself (and sometimes people booking me) that there’s more than one approach to being a hoop dancer. In fact, I’ve felt the need to remember that there’s more than one approach to being a woman. Period. When I perform to “The Final Countdown” or dress up as Beyoncé or strap on a headset mic and do a talking, comedy hoop number, despite the fact that I might be in a show where only the men are doing comedy – I’m being myself.

And while hooping may or may not be sexy, depending on how the artist or audience experiences it, being one’s self is always sexy. On my path, funny is sexy.

I often wonder whether the pressure women feel from the culture to have magazine-style sex appeal makes it less possible to approach sexiness from any other standpoint. I saw this video recently, which “empowers women to reconnect with their sexual core, one sexy squat at a time.”

Undulating one’s core can help with sexual performance and confidence. But I didn’t see a wide variety of physical aesthetics, body types or dress styles in this video. Which led me to wonder how empowering, or even how accessible, it actually was to do Kama. Would someone feel comfortable being sassy and flirty in this class without a bare belly, thigh highs and the right hair extensions? I wonder the same thing when I see the prevalence of one sexy archetype in the hoop world.

In addition to more than one approach to LOOKING like a hoop dancer (or woman), there’s also more than one approach to DOING hooping. Off-body tech hoop moves do not actually engage the pelvic floor. They do not necessarily involve the hips or undulation. Yet, they can be done while dancing and are part of many hoopers’ repertoire.

I currently live in a community of object manipulators, The Vulcan (in Oakland, CA), where the reigning mindset is one steeped in theory – and not in an internal or external relationship between the artist and “sexiness.” An almost holy reverence is given to the possibilities of human body and object, to the slight turn of a wrist that can enhance momentum and further open a doorway into flow. Every day, I see examples of hooping that have nothing to do with an undulating pelvic core or sex. Sometimes, they have nothing to do with being a woman. (As some of my talented neighbors and friends prove, men also do incredible work with hoops.)

A few zillion gigs under my belt, and I can tell you that the Guardian reporter is not alone in assuming a “hoopdancer” is a lithe, sexy woman who exists “in order” to make men drool and women feel bad about their abs. But I can also say from practical experience that the Guardian definition is limited to one archetype. It doesn’t cover what I do. It doesn’t describe the “I wear whatever I want while blowing your mind” style of Brecken or the over-the-top hilariousness of Miss Saturn or the pure art of Malcolm Stuart or Native American hoop dancers or – well, probably a lot of people who use hoops without simultaneously being “sylph-like sirens.”

Following one’s own path can lead to confidence. Which is ultimately the best way to feel at home in one’s body. Unabashedly being your self, no matter what that looks like, is the most convention-shattering, SEXY act imaginable.

Here’s to an ever-expanding definition of what it means to dance with hoops.


20 responses to “Defining hoop dance

  1. LOVE this Kari. Thanks for posting. I truly enjoy reading anything and everything you post. 🙂

  2. Very well said. As a male hoop dancer in a sideshow/burlesque troupe, I can add that the power and skill of a confident hooper is often perceived by audiences as being MORE sexy than the lithe women who are merely taking their clothes off. Take that, sylphs…

    Pure joy is also among the sexiest things on the planet, and that’s what I feel every time I get into a hoop. That’s also what I try to convey to my audiences, which makes them feel sexier, which leads to a whole lot of sexiness for all.

    But no, hooping isn’t necessarily about sexiness (and, as a side note, stripping while hooping is REALLY difficult). But I think that folks finding joy in their hoops doing all sorts of things can’t help but make the world a better, funnier, sexier, happier place.

  3. That Guardian description also left a strange taste in my mouth. Thanks for writing such a well-considered alternate definition.

  4. Olivia Medlock

    Cari, I love this. This really resonates with me. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  5. Revolva, bless you and your helmet! You are one SEXY, FUNNY lady, let me tell ya… and a damn fine point you make here.

    “Being yourself is always sexy” – amen.

  6. I kinda think your helmet is sexy… no?
    Very well written!

  7. Amen sista! Hoopers come in all forms. Great words I’ll let sink in before bed 🙂

  8. Thanks so much for your thoughtful, articulate, respectful, reflective and expansive discussion on hooping. I learned a lot, and I appreciated hearing about your perspective as a professional hooper. Blessings sis!

  9. Girl power!! a true pioneer you are Kari. And don’t forget that not all men care more for sexy girls than for actual skills, Some of us get turned on by art and expertise…

  10. Thank you Revolva. Intelligence is one of my biggest turnons. You got it in spades.

  11. I totally agree. For me being creative is sexy! Which means I have an allergic reaction to the stereotypical kind of beauty and strive to push the boundaries of what my imagination can do. That is sexy!

  12. Oh, yeah! “This helmet makes me feel flirty” sent me over the moon … 🙂
    I just adore you. And the ideas in this article are overdue!

  13. Great rebuttal! Coming from the bellydance world, I’m used to this kind of thing (which doesn’t make it ok) and it’s sad to me that hoop dance — heck, any kind of dance? — has to deal with these sets of assumptions, too.

    Reminds me of a joke (I cannot remember the author, sorry): “I’m [insert your religion here], we don’t have sex, because it might lead to dancing!”

  14. EXACTLY. Very well said, I love the helmet!

  15. Awoman! Thanks for writing and sharing.

  16. Sweet article. I liked that… Brecken’s “I wear whatever I want while blowing your mind”. 😀

  17. Hear hear, Revolva! Triple brilliant & beautiful words n thoughts. Thank you for writing and sharing and being your authentic, hilarious, talented, smart as all get out, SEXY self. Keep on keeping on, Please.

  18. Thanks for the comments. I’ve had many frustrating experiences over the years, being asked to perform in the stereotypically “sexy” style. That said, I have also had MANY affirming experiences. After making the personal commitment, several years ago, to brand all my stuff as vaudeville/comedy, I experienced an *increase* in gigs that aligned with my own goals. I also get constant positive feedback from crowds. No one has ever finished watching my act and said, “Hey, Revolva, I wish your costume could’ve showed off your boobs more.” They just say, “Whooooooo! That was awesome!”

    On occasion, I’ve also just agreed to a gig that wanted a “sexy” number and showed up with a comedy one instead. Whoops! Without fail, audiences love it. Which has made me think that certain promoters are just conditioned by our culture. They don’t even know what people will find entertaining. Although it can feel like work, maybe the onus is on US to follow our own paths (whatever they may be) and stand as countless personal examples of a wider realm of possibilities. I hope you all, especially female performers, can stay strong and true to yourselves. You won’t find constant support from society or people in the entertainment industry. But you’re not alone. You have an army of sisters (and hoopers) on your side! Much love.

  19. Revolva, this is just one more reason on my long list of reasons why I love you. Fantastic! I hope and pray that as hooping becomes more dominant in mainstream culture, society can take on the view you have presented here rather than the view presented in the article mentioned in your blog. Thank you so much for writing this! LOVE YOU WOMAN!

  20. Awesome! Thank you for flipping the coin over!! Funny AND true…

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