Vivian "Spiral" Hancock finds her flow in circus arts.
Taking the stage in a swirl of color and light, the artist who calls herself, simply, Spiral works a kind of magic, mesmerizing her audience with performances that incorporate dance, acrobatics, and contortion, and the manipulation of objects like hoops, wands, and juggling balls. She took a break from her rigorous practice schedule to talk about how she turned skills like juggling and hoop dancing into a spiritual practice.
What do you say to people when they ask you what you do?
I say I’m a professional circus performer, although not quite in the traditional sense.
What performance traditions do you draw from?
Definitely hoop dance: within that I focus on illusion, shape, and some Native American forms. Some Sufi-style whirling. Contact juggling, magic wand, acrobatics, fire, aerial hoop, and aerial fabric. Although I draw on some existing traditions, I’ve really created my own approach, especially with the ball, the wand, and the hoop. So while part of me longs to have started my training as a child, I appreciate having been free to develop what feels like an authentic expression, my essence coming through.
How much of what you’re doing is improvised, and how much is prepared?
I have some prepared pieces: a hoop piece, an aerial piece, a fire piece, all highly choreographed. Those are what I do when I get asked to do a feature set for a gig, however they’re not what I most love to do, which is improvised flow performance.
Is what you do dangerous?
(laughs) It can be. The aerial stuff is probably most dangerous even though I don’t get super high off the ground.
What about subversive, or the more metaphorical sense of danger?
Yes, and that delights me. Because it definitely takes people by surprise. A lot of my bread and butter is corporate events, which sometimes makes people in my arts community grimace—but I can’t think of another group of people who more need to see someone following their passion or living their dreams. I definitely give them pause.
Why do you call yourself Spiral?
I’m drawn to symbol, mythology, and archetype. Early on, when it was just the hoop I was working with, I started thinking about the symbolic nature of the circle, and the spiral pathways I was creating as I was moving it around my body, and the energy that was created. To have these objects involved made things much more powerful than when I was just dancing on my own. Every time I pick one of these tools up, there’s an immersion, a kind of wordless, thoughtless, simultaneous activation of its energy.
Choosing the name Spiral—at the time I had no idea how powerful that choice was. It was 2003, and I had made the decision I wanted to do something professional with the hoop. At the time there were less than a handful of people doing that, and they had names like Hoopalicious, Hoopnotica, Hoopgirl—none of which resonated with me. Then the first time I saw a photo of me