Rebecca Halls is a Canadian hoop dancer, Gyrotonic™ instructor and yoga teacher currently based in Berlin, Germany. She is also the creator of Hoopurbia, the world’s first urban hula hoop conference. She was interviewed for The Lab by Michele Clark.
MICHELE CLARK—What you do is part entertainment, part art. What do you think the difference is?
REBECCA HALLS—An audience ready to see art has a different level of tolerance and patience, whereas an audience ready to be entertained has a certain amount of expectation. The balance comes when we as performers we are able to play with the audience’s expectations and entertain them with some art when they are expecting entertainment – a performance that will continue to stimulate thought after the actual performance is finished.
My weeks and months are filled with a mix of art gigs and entertainment gigs. The art gigs often don’t pay so well, but they are usually the projects that stimulate me the most; the nutrients, that remind me of why I am doing this. Being in this world is full of highs and lows, so it’s important to have those reminders sometimes. The biggest difference between entertainment and art is the preset of the audience.
MC—What is the purpose of your job as an artist?
RH—My job is to innovate and to inspire. “To stay humble and forever keep on learning.” An 84-year-old Italian painter once told me this was his secret. So I’ve adopted that as my approach to my work and my life. I try to always stay authentic, and not get too caught up in what’s going on around me.
Ideas come like itches, sometimes there are none and sometimes they seem to be everywhere. I tend to follow one until it’s fully realized and then move onto the next; to research, and continually find new currents, inventions, stimulation, and excitement; to keep on digging. I try to always be learning, and developing in some way so that life continues to be exciting. I think when I’m excited about my work, others enjoy it more. I try not to please others, but rather keep them excited and not knowing what to expect next.
MC—How does glamour and pop culture come into play?
RH—A big part of my ritual begins before I arrive on stage. Decoration and adornment play an important role in why I do what I do. When you hear the word fashion it brings to mind all kinds of things, all kinds of attitudes, but elementally fashion is about the body. Decorating the body, accentuating and highlighting different parts of the body, hiding other parts, embellishing, and searching for fabrics and pieces that make me feel embodied and therefore glamorous. Each costume or piece brings out a different side of my personality. Sometimes I’ll switch up my costume and do the same choreography just to find something new in it.
MC—How do you see what you do through the lens of current feminist dialogues, particularly in relation to dance in the music industry?
RH—In this day in age, true beauty is represented by strength. The most powerful women in the world have demonstrated immense strength. I’m not talking necessarily about physical strength, but rather integrity, and strength of character. To me feminism is about being independent. Thanks to those who have fought before me, I live a life where I am a relatively free. I am allowed to wear whatever clothes I want, show as much skin as I feel confident, marry whoever I wish, and do whichever job I like. Following your desire is a luxury that is still not available to all women in this world. I am counting my blessings each day and living a life of gratitude for everything I have been given, empowering other women to do the same through my performance. Be strong, beautiful, and independent and never compare.
MC—Your work is very physical but intersects with fashion and music – two arenas not typically known for placing a lot of importance on health. How do you meet the demands of partying and staying in shape to be able to perform?
RH—Training is key. If I don’t spend some time training my body each day, I don’t feel happy. Staying up late and being the life of the party is part of my job. But if I don’t take care of my body it makes it hard to train the next day. I am very careful with how much alcohol I drink. Often I don’t drink at all, hydrating with water instead. I am very careful about what I eat. Always lots of fruits and vegetables, I try to eat as much raw unprocessed food as possible and very little sugar. If I’m going to indulge in alcohol, which I do every now and then, I try to keep it in moderation so I’m on the ball the following day. The most challenging element for me to negotiate is when to sleep?! It often seems like there are not enough hours in the day!
The final key is a good bodyworker. I travel a lot and I have lived in many different cities. I have been lucky enough to meet some of the most amazing massage therapists and osteopaths around the world. Investing in bodywork helps me to stay in shape and also centred, to be able to balance life as a touring performer with my other life in Berlin as a Yoga and Gyrotonic™ instructor.
MC—There is an element of freedom, joy, and a certain rawness that is the draw in your work. Can you talk about combining emotional and philosophical elements into something that may be otherwise viewed as superficial?
RH—As a choreographer, I am constantly thinking about time, space, and energy. When I walk into the space where I will perform, immediately I assess the space. How can I create an interesting performance in this space that encompasses the architecture, the atmosphere, and the energy? I have choreographed thousands of pieces to date, but my passion lies in working with what’s directly in front of me. I have become an expert in recognizing the choreographic potential of a space and creating something out of what would otherwise be perceived as nothing. Taking my whole bag of dance and hoop tools and offering something new and fresh to me and to the public. The audience appreciates this; it is stimulating on both sides. We are feeding off each other. It’s a living performance.
MC—How does that play into your lifestyle choices?
RH—As an entrepreneur/artist/yoga teacher my life can be quite spontaneous, often I’ll get a call for a job one or two days before and have to drop everything to go for it. However, on a day-to-day basis I impose structure on myself. I wake up, do my yoga practice, rehearse, teach, train, write emails, eat dinner, and go to bed. I travel a lot for jobs and each time I get back to Berlin, it takes some time to get back into my routine. I love spontaneity and I love structure. They go hand in hand. My life is a structured improvisation.
MC—What are some recent and upcoming collaborative projects that you’re excited about?
RH—I recently collaborated with an inventor to design and build a hoop with 32 lasers in it that I have been using for performance and in a new choreographic collaboration with Kianí del Valle. And currently, I’m working with video artist Tatsuru Arai. We’ve been working with my laser and LED hoops mixed with his projections to create a show. It’s extremely experimental, stimulating and fun
MC—What is special to you about making art with other people?
RH—I am actually a musician before I am a dancer. I started playing the piano by ear at the age of five, the same age I began dancing. At a certain point it became too much to both dance seriously and keep up my studies in piano, so I chose dance.
Music is an intrinsic part of what I do. Therefore, I love to collaborate with musicians. Sometimes I feel like my hoop is an instrument, and the movements coming from my body are the music. I don’t like to be restricted to one discipline; I like to be able to express myself through a myriad of different textures and mediums. Working with musicians and/or visual artists allows me to reach further and express more. I have mastered my body as my instrument. Collaborating with masters in music and video art allows me to extend my limbs beyond what’s physically available and literally paint the space around me.
MC—Who would your ultimate dream collaboration be with?
RH—I would like to work more with musicians, to create a dance and performance that is truly interactive. Recently I was performing in Iceland with some of the singers from Gus Gus and Retro Stefson. They are such talented singers, and it really brought a whole new dimension to share the stage with them. I really enjoy interacting and exchanging on stage in a performance atmosphere, working with my choreographic repertoire in a spontaneous way, taking improvisation to a whole new level.
I would like to do more of this, and in an environment where we have the time and the space to develop it further. Often my collaborations with musicians happen quite spontaneously, and it either works or it doesn’t. I am interested in building some long-term collaborations to create some new work with depth. And, of course, working with a budget. This is the dream. Many of the projects I have done have been self funded or working with little or no budget.
MC—You have supported yourself as an independent artist and business person for most of your life. Why did you choose this path and what are some of the struggles you’ve faced?
RH—I didn’t make the choice to be a business person. In fact, my parents encouraged me to go into the workforce and become a teacher, because running my own business or being an artist was a tough road, and would most likely be financially unstable. I did try many jobs, but I just couldn’t help feeling like I was wasting my life. It then became my mission to find out why I was here. I searched and traveled and searched more until I found my hoops. And well… it just immediately felt right. I haven’t looked back since.
MC—What do you think of the state of the dance art world? I understand you turned down some big opportunities in order to pursue your interest in hula hoops. Why?
RH—Currently, due to funding limitations there are lots of terrific dancers who are unemployed. It’s no longer a time when you can expect to get a job in a company. The majority of dancers won’t. It’s a time when you have to be creative and come up with your own work. You have to be resourceful, you have to be driven. You have to find the people and the artists you want to work with and then connect with them to make it happen. I have choreographers that I regularly collaborate with, but again they are artists, friends who do not yet have budgets to pay their dancers. We are all working together to make it happen. This is where the fire lies.
Hoop dance is rising in popularity around the globe. It has been pretty popular in Canada and the US for about 10 years, and when I came over to Europe in 2011 it still hadn’t exploded here yet. I would say now we are having a hoop explosion in Europe. I am doing my best to contribute to the avant-garde, dance/art side of hooping via my hoop festival Hoopurbia.
MC—What are some of your greatest inspirations?
RH—First and foremost the body; totally my temple. Second would be light, both natural and synthetic light, in nature and also the city. Nature is a huge inspiration – the ocean, the sky. I look to these things often and take frequent trips to both Iceland and Canada for inspiration. I like the vibration of the urban atmosphere. Each place has its own vibration and I notice in certain parts of the world I feel more creative than others. I try to spend more time, especially when I’m creating, in these stimulating environments. Third, my friends. I’m pretty careful these days about who I spend time with. The people I’m close to are close friends because we have a stimulating friendship and we are always exchanging ideas and continually co-creating.
MC—Recently you have made more of a move towards projects with a pop edge as opposed to you past work which was geared more towards a dance/fine art audience. What path do you see your next steps taking you?
RH—I’m just following my excitement. Whether that lies in the pop world or the fine art world I don’t mind. One of the most exciting parts about moving to Berlin was that I had the opportunity to perform for all kinds of audiences. My career in Montreal was in the dance and fine art scene, and since moving to Berlin I have been enjoying performing in the music scene. I’d like to continue with this and also work more with video – making music videos and dance choreographed for camera – presenting experimental art to a pop audience.
MC—Where are you performing next?
RH—I’ve been in Europe almost four years, and now I’m looking to reconnect with North America, specifically LA. I’ve always felt attracted to California and recently the draw has become especially strong. I’ve got a couple collaborations coming up in LA next year, and hopefully more will follow.