Thursday, 28 April 2011

Hula Time

As I've been busy writing uni assignments lately I thought I'd update my blog with some Guardian Cardiff articles I'd written a little while ago but hadn't gotten around to posting on here. This article first appeared on Guardian Cardiff on February 7th 2011...

Exercise is a word which evokes fear in many. Associations with enforced school gym classes, exertion, sweat, and self-inflicted post-Christmas punishment means apprehension is understandable.

But what if exercise could be genuinely fun and excitedly anticipated? What if it wasn't a sweaty chore and involved equipment of the stripy, glittery variety? Well then you'd be hooping, that's what.

Hooping is different to the hula you remember as a child, because it involves a much bigger and heavier hoop, which rotates slower around the body. This means that even if you think you can't, with a weighted adult hoop, you can - something verified by esteemed fans such as Michelle Obama!

New monthly classes will be coming to Cardiff from 12 February so I chatted to Emma Kerr, the founder of hooping tuition company 'Hooping Mad' and her pupil Tracy Davies to find out more.

I began by asking how Emma's journey to hooping tuition began. "I picked up my first hoop at Secret Garden Party festival in summer 2007," she explained.

"I had never been able to hoop around my waist, even when I was a child, so I was shocked to find that with a big adult hoop I could spin it comfortably. I've been hooked ever since!"

Emma continued to hoop as a form of stress release whilst writing up her PhD in Immunology, and upon completion hung up her lab coat and became The Hoop Doctor! She now runs regular classes and workshops across the country, mostly focused in the South West and South Wales.

So what can be expected from a hooping session?

"Each class we cover a different set of tricks, for example one week we may focus on hooping at the knees, another week we might do throws, another elbow hooping. We also learn how to put the tricks together by learning routines or practicing 'transitioning' between different tricks. There's also time to dance at the end so you can put the tricks you've learnt into action."

The mention of tricks makes it sound...well, tricky I guess. But as a recruited hooper, I can confirm that with practice, they can be picked up pretty easily. And as Emma said reassuringly, there's no pressure:

"There are no 'wrong' tricks and every person dances and therefore hoops in a different way. Each hooper has their own unique style. As you progress your movement with the hoop becomes more natural rather than thinking about what trick to do next. In the hoop world this is called 'flow' and you can come up with your own individual movements (or tricks) when you can hoop in this way."

Hooping is fun, it looks great and it's not super difficult – therefore it's not 'proper' exercise, right? Wrong. Emma told me about the huge physical impact it can have:

"When I first began hooping I lost about 1.5 stone and this has stayed off. I am gradually toning up in all the places I want to and it feels like I'm not doing any exercise at all. I'm naturally lazy. I hate the gym, dislike sports and I'm the sort of person that always takes the lift!! Hooping is perfect for me! I can put some music on and hoop for hours without realising
that I'm doing exercise."

Tracy verified this positive effect too:

"I've never really liked wearing strappy tee shirts or sleeveless tops as I prefer to keep the tops of my arms covered. However, as a result of the arm hooping I'm hoping I will be happy to wear tops of this kind from now on."

I personally enjoy other types of exercise too, from running to swimming, but I find hooping extra convenient. It doesn't involve being outdoors in the February freeze, or carrying lots of kit around. Once you have your hoop (sparkles optional) you can put some music on at home and begin!

Monthly classes will begin on Saturday 12th February at Welsh Institute of Sport, Sophia Gardens. There will be a 45min beginner's session from 2 -2.45pm for those who have never hooped before followed by a 3 - 5pm class for all levels. You can choose to attend one of the two sessions, or both – find out more here.*

*They are every month, so even when this becomes out of date, keep checking the website for the most up to date times!

DER Collective: Hip Hop in Cardiff

As I've been busy writing uni assignments lately I thought I'd update my blog with some Guardian Cardiff articles I'd written a little while ago but hadn't gotten around to posting on here.

This article first appeared on Guardian Cardiff on October 14th 2010...

I met fifty percent of DER Collective at The Percussion House on Whitchurch Road, Cardiff. Despite this being a Mecca for all things percussion and potentially noisy, there was no need to liven things up with cymbal striking (tempting as that was!) as the band provided plenty of animation and energy of their own. 

The collective consists of Deri Roberts as composer/producer, Elliot Bennett on drums, Dionne Bennett on vocals, Dregz is MC and lyricist, Andrew Brown plays bass, while DJ Jaffa works the turntables. 

DER Collective are described on their website as being a live music based, hip hop influenced band. I had to admit to being a total rookie of this genre - how would they describe hip hop music? As they passionately explained, while hip hop influenced they might be, their music is a melting pot – a hybrid of different cultures and sounds, with an emphasis on the live.

DER Collective artwork by Burning Red Hip hop, the guys described, usually consists of drum and bass, sampling, beats and an MC voice, therefore a stripped back sound. DER Collective, in contrast, are influenced by their respective travels and experiences, the product of which is a 14 track debut album entitled 'New World Order.'
The fusion of different styles and genres is evident throughout as hardcore hip-hop beats, mellow strings, horn sections, Reggae grooves, stunning Persian and African vocals, as well as world percussion flavours seamlessly blend together, forming fantastic and unanticipated combinations of sounds and words. The stand out tracks are Snakes and Blaggers and Grade Red Terror for me and I agree with the guys' feeling that there's a component of their music to suit every listener as it is so rich with a plethora of sounds.

DER Collective I was curious as to what inspires their lyrics. Is there a message DER Collective are aiming to convey? When Deri and Dregz were getting together to discuss the album initially, they were each hoping the other wanted to address a message and use meaningful lyrics in their tracks - luckily this mutual objective ensured they were on the same page from day one. If an overall conclusion has to be decided upon - it is change. It's a collection of many messages Dregz had wanted to convey over the years: attitudes and perceptions about music, how people see the world, personal and political ideas, that people have a voice if they bother to use it, and can make a change if they put effort in. Elliot encapsulated; "The only thing that doesn't change is change itself." There's a total of 6,400 lyrics on the album - so Dregz certainly had a lot to say! As a man of words and the Cardiff born member of the group I asked him his views on the city around which many aspects of DER Collective are intertwined, both musically and personally:

"I like Cardiff, I always have. I think Cardiff is a city of paradoxes. The capital of Wales, the big city, I like that, but at the same time I like being the underdog, and let's face it to the rest of the UK, we are seen as just that. I like being able to be fiercely patriotic about my city, but being able to complain about things about it at the same time.
"I like the fact that Cardiff is small enough for you to get noticed if you really want, and big enough to get lost in and to keep yourself to yourself should you choose to do so."

I was also intrigued to hear his take on the music scene in Cardiff:
 "I feel it has always been buzzing with a mad variety of styles. Certain styles seem to get more 'props' with local press and radio than others, but it is buzzing none the less.

"The genre I'm most involved with is Hip hop, the scene is strong and well protected by those involved and although everybody strives to be better than the next man, there is a massive amount of respect between camps, and between the 'new skool' element and the the older heads who have been involved since hip hop hit these Welsh shores.

"It's not unusual to hear Cardiff emcees rhyming on the same tracks as emcees from Barry, Swansea or somewhere in the valleys. To me that's what makes us so unique."

Soon to be on the live scene themselves in Cardiff, the next step for DER Collective is to focus on their performances. As Jason stated, "I've got stuff to say and people need to hear it!" They've performed live as a collective on one occasion to date, at The Globe in Roath. A good test of the pull of their performance, the venue was swelteringly hot pre air-con installation so the group and audience were sticky and sweaty, yet the sizeable crowd remained captivated. This bodes well for wintry Welsh gigs when the conditions should be less tropical and more comfortable (read = chilly!) The guys stress a marriage of technology and live is important for their performances, as whilst technology can enable and enhance a gig, they feel an audience relates to the energy of people, to live instruments, picking up the atmosphere and vibe of a band and crowd.

You must be ready to sample the band's sound by now, so make sure you quench your musical thirst in Buffalo Bar at the first of those winter gigs tonight.* In the meantime, I recommend a visit to If you think you're not into a hip hop influence, take a listen. It's something completely different, so you may just have to think again.

*'Tonight' was October 14th, 2010!