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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The One Where We Compare Lyra Vs Silks

This year I wanted to take my current set of skills and boldly go where I never had before.  Expanding my horizon for hooping meant investigating the lyra. Naturally I assumed if I liked that hoop on the ground then it should be even better in the air.
I set out to find an instructor and settled on a gym for my first class. They offered lots of classes in aerial arts and I was faced with a choice between lyra or aerial silks. As it turned out I wanted to start right away and silks was the only class with room for me to enroll. I initially planned to try both disciplines but as it became woefully self-evident that I had a lot of work to do on silks I was more intimidated by the idea of trying the aerial hoop. I saw silks as a series of knots and slings that helped me stay in the air and the lyra as a cold steal hoop that would require me to do more artistic versions of pull ups the whole time.

That is when I started scouring the internet for comparisons of the two art forms. Unfortunately, while many people do practice both skills I could find surprisingly little written about it for the inquisitive. Finally, I just decided to screw my courage to the sticking place and try a lyra class  and write a blog for those who might be curious about either disciplineI am now about 4 months into my aerial silks study and 2 months on the lyra and let me say I am so glad I chose to try both. They are a vastly rewarding and beautiful art forms but aside from being in the air they have very little in common. If you are considering trying to decide between starting on either of these apparatuses I hope this will be a helpful post.
One thing I hear over and over about the lyra is that people feel like it is easier than silks. This is true to the extent that if you have the basic core strength to support yourself learning the pathways to tricks is much easier on lyra. Fundamentally it is just a large steal ring and as long as you can hang on all the tricks are just different orientations of the body in relation to the hoop. Silks tricks are often a long series of precise wraps that can be difficult to remember when you are beginning. Forgetting something as simple as putting the silk under an arm can leave you a tangled aerial marionette.
Where I disagree with the opinion of the lyra being easier is if you have not built up your core strength yet. I am not talking about being able to do a billion reps of pull ups but if you cannot support your body weight in a hanging position then it is going to be difficult to even get into the hoop. In the beginning aerial silks will give you a slight advantaged because you can essentially tie into the silks from ground level and start working on trick pathways. In my opinion you will probably feel like you have accomplished showier tricks in the first few weeks of silks as you are working on your core strength.  I started aerial hoop after several months of silks so I spent most of my time developing pathways to tricks but I see many beginners struggle to get into a seated position. There are some things you can do to squirm your way into hoop but your progress on lyra is going to be mostly conditioning until you have the ability to maintain your body weight in the air.
Since there is not much to the lyra aside from you and the hoop it is usually considered more dangerous than silks. Let me very clear here when I say “more dangerous”. Both disciplines are inherently dangerous and should be treated with respect and caution but lyra does not have any supporting fabric that can be used to create locks. Now locks can fail and you can perform a wrap improperly with silks but the support provided is far more than in a lyra where you either have some kind of grip on the hoop or you do not and pure balance is the key for a number of tricks. There is definitely instruction that goes into learning where the sweet spot of a trick is but if you screw up then there are a lot fewer opportunities to stop yourself from taking a tumble.

 That brings us to probably the biggest difference between the two disciplines and that is the pain factor. Both silks and lyra will tweak, pinch and squeeze you in uncomfortable places but I never bruised myself on silks as frequently as I do on lyra. The first weeks on lyra left the backs of my knees a mess of unattractive colors ranging from yellow to deep purple. As my skills have progressed and I found that the bruising can be less but it never seems to completely go away. It is safe to assume that while you may acclimate and find better ways to approach the hoop it will not change the fact that you are resting all of weight on a 1 inch diameter steal hoop. Any place where you are supporting yourself is going to be subject to bruising and is going to be a bit uncomfortable. You will just have to keep in mind the old adage…
Please keep in mind both lyra and aerial silks require vast amounts of skill, flexibility and strength at the higher levels of performance. This comparison is meant for those interested in what these disciplines might be like for someone starting at a beginner level. Hopefully, this will encourage you to expand your own horizons. If you have any additional questions about either apparatus I would be happy to answer them or feel free to leave your own opinion on why you chose lyra, silks or both.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The One Where I Got To Hoop With Baxter

The view at Hoop Path EarthQuaker Tour 2013 in Dallas
Last weekend I spent my second session studying with a Hoop Path instructor. My first class was with Ann Humphreys and this time I spent 3 days working with her teacher, Jonathan Baxter. For those not already familiar with Baxter he is the originator of the Hoop Path method of teaching and hooping. Hoop Path focuses less of teaching specific tricks and more on developing fundamentals and a style that can be translated to how you hoop and execute tricks. Hoop Path also emphasizes a sense of wellbeing and self we can cultivate through movement and uses a hoop to facilitate this exploration.
As part of Baxter’s lessons we spent time each day moving blindfolded without the hoop. Since all of the other students are blindfolded during these sessions it removes any stigma of being observed in our movements as well are removes judgment we may pass on ourselves. The first time I was introduced to this exercise I felt ridiculous and for the most part refused to allow myself to move more than the bare minimum. Being my second set of classes that used this exersice I was much more open to the idea and used the time to stretch and warm up. I now firmly believe that allowing yourself to move freely under the blindfold is very beneficial. Often during hooping I may look at my hoop or a point of reference but very rarely do I have the luxury of really observing the space outside my hoop while in motion. I found that during the warm up I could recalibrate my movements to be more grounded and less based on visual cues.
What I really love about a master hooping workshops is the approach the instructors seem to have towards movement. The difference I see between the leaders in the hooping community and average hooping instruction is an emphasis on movement. I am not saying there is no room for basic trick and hooping instruction because it is absolutely essential as well. We all spend time working on learning how to move a hoop from the waist to our shoulders or do a basic lift. Where a hoop workshop differs from basic instruction is learning the economy of movement and how to help your hoop become more of an extension of your own movement rather than trying to drag the hoop through space. Baxter uses mythology, drills and open practice to help impart and then solidify some of the techniques he uses when hooping. Learning anything from small changes in my stance to where in the rotation I was making connection with my hoop made worlds or quickly identifiable differences in my hooping. We spent a fair amount of time on the second day working on angles and instead of muscling my way through the angles I have found I can now casually incorporate them into my dance. For me the movement portion of the workshops are crucial. Since I already know many tricks learning to smooth my movements and understand the dynamics of where my hoop is being propelled from helps to add both reliability and style to my flow.
Baxter is a master of the smooth flow
One of the portions I was most excited for during the weekend was folding. Folding is quickly becoming one of the more popular terms being passed around the hooping community and I went into the class with only a vague understanding of the concept. Most commonly I see folding described as moving the hoop through a 3 dimensional space rather than maintaining on the vertical or horizontal plane. In the most basic sense of the term I suppose this is true but Baxter has taken the action of singular fold and expanded it to an entire technique and style. As Baxter teaches it folding it is no longer just a transitional trick between vertical and horizontal planes but rather a gripless connection of hoop and dancer. The hoop becomes an extension of the dancer and moves off a series of connections and hinges with the body to endlessly fold in new and unexpected ways.  Learning to continuously fold in the Hoop Path style is very much like learning to hoop again and if you are feeling rutted in your hooping this can definitely help change tracks.
Baxter demonstrates gripless continuous folding

I always leave these workshops with lots of newly polished techniques under my belt and ready to tackle the unknown. I am grateful for the hoopers in the community who make it a point to share their discoveries and push the limits of our beloved toy. Finding some much versatility in such a simple object really speaks to the potential diversity in all of our endeavors simple or complex if we take the time to push the limits.

Are any of you planning to attend a hooping workshop soon? Do you have a favorite instructor?