Canadian contemporary dancer Rebecca Halls breezes into Sankt Oberholz, a two-story café and co-working space in Berlin’s Mitte District that’s as packed with Apple laptops as people.
Even amidst this preposterous glut of dark-clad, world-weary hipsters, Halls is uniquely eye-catching. Perched just under her thick, brown bangs, ostentatious vintage sunglasses cover half her face, a sheen of pearl-pink gleams from her lips, and her outfit, a thoughtful combination of sporty and chic, is as functional as it is visually pleasing.
Her body is taut, athletic and lean, but not in the uncomfortably hungry way of others who belong to the world of professional dance. She exudes health and seems comfortable in her own skin, while her lucid, thoughtful conversational style brims with ready laughter.
Halls is an imminently likeable 31-year-old woman who is more than easy to be around. And she’s staked her entire career on a specialized medium that even she doesn’t hesitate to describe as ridiculous.
She is a professional hula hooper.
Yes, hula hooper, a domain perhaps more commonly associated with dreadlocked, peasant-skirted hippies gyrating in a meadow, which, although an endearing image (at best), wants for artistically groundbreaking merit.
A graduate of Concordia’s celebrated fine-arts program in Dance & Choreography, Halls aims to transform common preconceptions about hooping in two ways: rendering it false by continuing to evolve the hoop into a high-art form and proliferating her unique version of this form to new audiences and other dancers.
“Ballet developed in order to physically interpret the figurative, auditory movements of Western Classical music,” she says. “Similarly, I believe that hooping is a gateway for illustrating complex electronic music with the body.
“I take what I do very seriously,” Halls says, who relocated to Berlin from Montreal in the winter of 2011. She explains that a small, committed network of professional hoopers exists in North America. Attendant to this network is an expanding market for fine-art and commercial performance opportunities, collaboration, as well as workshops.
In Europe, the scene is different; while there are hula hoopers coming from a circus tradition, the medium as a fine-art form is still finding its contemporary voice. Rather than regarding this continent’s undeveloped fan base and career connectivity as a hindrance, Halls considers it pure opportunity. As one of the few professional hula hoopers based in Europe, she is by dint of a competition-free market poised to become its leading performer and cultural importer. She wants to expand upon the form and inspire others to do the same.
But what she’s bringing to the table isn’t jaw dropping circus entertainment or a titillating go-go dancing act. While both performance disciplines derive from creative histories, technical mastery, and stylistic elements that influence Halls, she’s looking for something more.
With 25 years of dance training and a decade of hoop work imprinted in her body, as well as formal, university-level choreographic studies under her belt, she seeks to integrate modern dance and hooping in order to innovate a wholly new form.
“I’m thinking in terms of a working artist with a visionary practice. As I became more and more dedicated to hooping, the more I began to search for depth, versus entertainment,” Halls says. “And because I didn’t find what I was looking for, I decided to create it myself. What I’m doing is bringing into existence that which wasn’t there before.”
Since arriving in Germany, Halls has already performed and hosted multiple hooping workshops in Berlin, Scandinavia, Iceland, the United Kingdom, and Spain, as well as returning to Canada and the US to reconnect with the communities in North America.
Her most sweeping statement yet in Europe, however, will take place this weekend. She has organized an international festival of Hooprubia designed to collectively push the boundaries or hoop dancing and promote its establishment as an art form. Over three days, from July 27th-29th, hoopers, artists, musicians, dancers, and video artists from around the world will gather to perform, teach, and practice at the Berlin Arena and Badeschiff.
Open to hoopers of all levels, the emphasis is on choreography and education. Saturday night offers spectators the opportunity to see what it’s all about at a performance showcase open to the public. (Cost is €10).