Drawing by © Ruth Irving

Drawing by © Ruth Irving

PLAY x PLAY: Jan Baracz


Play by Play is an ongoing series in which we invite a variety of creative minds to explore the importance of play.

Discover how engaging their physical selves helps them to stimulate their creativity while also liberating them from the often stressful and sedentary confines of our technologically dominated era. We hope this series will motivate you to take regular tech breaks and make time to play everyday. It’s good for your physical health and crucial for your imagination.


JAN BARACZ‘s work has been exhibited extensively internationally at venues including Art Unlimited at Art Basel, the Sculpture Center and the Center for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, Poland. His socio-cinematic installation; “Reality Cinema/LIVE VIDEO” for which he built a theatre that screened live images from the street outside premiered at Art in General in 2008. His sculptural project; “How to Float Above the Psychic Stampede and Other Traditional Remedies” was shown in New York in the fall of 2010. His photography has appeared in The Paris Review, American Letters & Commentary and Jane magazine.  He has been the recipient of awards from the Asian Cultural Council, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Edward F. Albee Foundation, Artists Space and the Kosciusko Foundation, among others. We encourage you to explore: janbaracz.com

The drawings for this article were created by Ruth Irving.



Turning Around in Circles

by Jan Baracz


I first fell in love with hoop dance on the Island of Koh Phangan where I watched my first hoop crush, Kaia Marie, spinning the plastic ring at dusk against the picture perfect background of sea and sky. I was transfixed by the sight of the oscillating ring around her silhouette; her body vibrating like a taut string inside a blurry orbit. I tried to imagine the sensation she was experiencing and I envisioned becoming transformed into a vibration. Her seemingly inhuman poise has become my secret aspiration.

After returning home to New York City I bought my first hoop from a man who was on his way to becoming one of the stars on the hoop dancing firmament. Malcolm Stewart sold me one of his own first hoops for a symbolic amount of money. It was a large and heavy object perfect for a beginner who could hardly spin it around the waist. After learning to do so I hung the hoop on the wall and I did not touch it for almost a year. I don’t remember how I discovered the local hoop community but after my first hoop dance class I became hooked. Meeting hoop dance teachers and performers in the early days of my addiction was both inspiring and intimidating. I felt self-conscious and awkward but I kept on spinning, sustained by the high of the dance. It was an unfolding obsession which took more of my time and energy than I would ever have expected. I felt that the action of spinning a circle around my core and turning around to maintain the spin and momentum released certain substances into my system that in turn made me grin uncontrollably afterwards, like a Cheshire cat — and then return for more. Soon I developed a full blown hoop habit or what hoop dancers call a practice.

I learned that in order to keep the hoop on my core I had to “draw” upward spirals on my body with the point of contact between the body and the hoop. This spiral-making activity in and of itself elevates the blood particles in much the same way that a liquid swirled inside a glass moves upward along the edge. This was my experience of the mystery of the Kundalini serpent, the ecstasy of the Dervish dance or what pedantic physicists call the centripetal force.

Hoop Dance has always engaged both my body and my mind, in equal measure. While riding the slim edge between the two I experience an intoxication that comes from eluding the categorized world; I stay inside the sensation while allowing the spirographic patterns to populate my imagination. It is the most abstract thing I’ve ever done physically. Drawing shapes simultaneously with the circular object and the body is shamelessly exhilarating. The relation of the body and the object creates a mutating field of expression. The imaginary trace of the motion (often a result of the human visual inertia) that persists in the background of NOW gives the movement the soft tread of a continuum. Although we dance with an actual object and have a physical relation with its material properties, our mind engages with an abstraction, a concept — the idea of a circle. While hoop dancing we render spherical shapes, cross implied planes and move between dimensions and enter a focused unguarded time within ourselves. The intuitive play of geometries is the fabric spun over the intimacy of the dance.

Drawing by © Ruth Irving

Drawing by © Ruth Irving

The sensation that I find hardest to describe and yet mysteriously satisfying is what I feel when reversing my original current. I owe this poetic terminology to Jonathan Livingstone Baxter, of Carrboro NC, who has developed a comprehensive yet lyrical language around hoop dance.  Most people tend to have a direction in which they naturally spin first and which is easier for them. Spinning the hoop in the reverse direction gives me the subtle sensation of using unknown parts of my brain – of wiring new synaptic pathways. It is perplexing at first, but brings on a delightful sense of equilibrium when accomplished.

Hooping belongs to a wider family of activities called flow arts. The sensation of flow is what keeps all of us hoop dancers coming back for more. Flow as an optimal experience has been highly theorized. According to Wikipedia flow is characterized by;

1. intense and focused concentration on the present moment

2. merging of action and awareness

3. a loss of reflective self-consciousness

4. a sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity

5. a distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered

6. experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

So irresistible and yet so elusive! It precisely describes a hoop flow.

Hooping can be treacherous. It is both apparently frivolous and trance-inducing. It can be highly contagious. Children cannot resist it. By adults it is perceived as and/or used for burlesque, circus, meditation, fitness, spiritual practice, dance art or idiotic behavior. One of the most mesmerizing hoop dancers around, Tiana Zoumer, called hoop dance; “the quintessentially pointless art” , making it belong to that rare category of things so subversively pure that they float above all application. After his high-wire walk between the World Trade Center towers, answering the question of why he did it, Philippe Petit said, among other things: “…. Why? There is no why.”

I aspire to be equally unapologetic about my passion for hoop dance even if the complexity of my experiences with the hoop perpetually tempts me to capture it in words.


Jan Baracz

New York, October 2013


Published: October 15th, 2013

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