Eshna Kutty is the young self-taught hoop dancer based out of Delhi, whose recent dance video set to the popular song ‘Genda Phool’ went viral on Instagram. Practising for more than ten years, Eshna feels that she can finally validate her passion for her career. And it does not stop at just hooping; Eshna has also dabbled at acro-yoga, juggling, slacklining, capoeira, and even hip-hop, all to perfect her art of hooping, and has effectively shaped it into her own way of movement therapy.
Starting our conversation about slacklining, she seemed surprised that I mentioned it. Slacklining is a flat rope that connects one tree to another and on which you should essentially be able to walk on, with careful balance. “It’s not that tight rope that you see in those movies,” she explained. On a more extreme note, there’s highlining which connects one mountain to another. She also seemed quite excited to finally be able to go out and practise.
Hoop dancing is a very unconventional career and Eshna owes a lot of credit to her parents. “I was just allowed to do all of that. That’s the only difference – that most parents don’t allow you that space to be able to do the things you really feel like doing. Which is why I’m able to hula hoop the way I do.” According to Eshna, up until a few years ago, her mother and father, a journalist and a filmmaker respectively, had much more interesting lives; while her parents were always travelling through India and around the world, she was found with a book at all times.
When asked about her favourite hoopers whose videos have inspired her, she mentioned Brecken Rivara and Marianna De Sanctis, both hoopers from abroad. However, over the last several years, Eshna gathers most of her inspiration from non-hoopers. “People inspire me and how they interpret art or sport.”
“I want to hoop as well as John Mayer sings. I want to move on a court as well as Roger Federer does.” Says Eshna Kutty
Hoop is also a part of the Rhythmic Gymnastics in the Olympics. While Eshna confirmed that she has watched videos of rhythmic gymnasts, it’s not something she has been drawn to. Eshna herself has taught rhythmic gymnasts for a brief period and was quite inspired with their movements. “I don’t want to train that hard. It’s too intense. I’ve seen my students, 5-year-old kids having to do somersaults, at such a young age. And I’m just like Nah! I just want to play around.”
Rise to Fame
Eshna became an overnight sensation after her video dancing to ‘Genda Phool’ in a saree and shoes went viral. Saree flow was apparently on Eshna’s mind for a very long time – adding an Indian touch to her flow posts. When asked how difficult it was to dance in a saree, she expressed that it was a little restrictive because of the sheer amount of cloth. “Hooping is a lot easier with lesser clothing because bare skin gives friction. But saree flow is definitely very doable and it’s a lot of fun.”
Looking back, Eshna still questions why the particular video (Genda Phool) went viral. A month later, Eshna now does not really remember what her reaction really was.
“It feels like a crazy dream that I’ve just woken up from. When you wake up from a dream, you don’t remember the dream very well, right? That’s what I’m feeling right now.” Says Eshna about her viral video
She is also quite thrilled that hooping has gained popularity in India since the last month. “I’m happy that I was able to contribute to the hooping community in some way and it really validates my career I think. Other than that, I get to also share this with other people and I’m very excited about that.”
While hooping is a well-known form, it is only one of the forms of flow arts. She went on to explain the current state of hoop dancers in India. “You can count the number of flow artists there are in the country, seeing that we’re a population in a billion.” However, the field is rapidly growing. With hooping it’s a lot easier because almost everyone knows what a hula hoop is. “Not everyone knows what a slackline is, or what Poi is.”
Another considerable feat that Eshna has achieved recently is her appearance in Ritviz’s ‘Chalo Chalein’ music video. Ritviz’s manager approached her and she could not pass off the opportunity. While she has done many other projects from January through March, most of them did not come out, except for a Nescafe ad and the music video. Thankfully for their team – and for us – the production of the music video was over just in time before the pandemic blew up in India.
Talking about the other dancers on the video, she admitted that she knew most of them beforehand. “Over the years, I’ve performed in a lot of cyphers, like underground battles. The equivalent of ‘Step Up’, but in India.” She went on to say that these friends have always inspired and influenced Eshna’s dance style. “Every time I attend a dance event, I’m not watching the performances. I’m on the side asking my dance friend if they can teach me that move that they just did, I want to learn it right there.”
An Alternative Form of Therapy and a Confidence Booster?
A Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) practitioner, Eshna explained that dance and therapy, in fact, go quite well together. Through her course, Eshna learnt that dance movement therapy was far from the conventional forms of dances and has made her a lot more aware of herself. “Of course, there’s the therapeutic side to it. It’s for people who can’t go to therapy because they don’t know how to verbalize a lot of their feelings or have a lot of body trauma.” The therapeutic side of hoop dance is very ambiguous; there’s no structure to hooping and that’s probably why Eshna has grown fond of it.
“I personally have always been a person who hasn’t always been good with words. So for me, movement was something that really helped me verbalize a lot of things.” Says Eshna Kutty
Eshna claims that hooping has helped her personally grow in many ways. “It’s definitely made me a lot more confident. It’s been a process of fake it till you make it and hula hoop’s kind of been that confidence booster or my personal cheerleader, in a way. I think it’s also made me a lot more playful. I haven’t laughed so much and had so many adventures in like my entire life, as much as I have had in say 2018 to 2020.”
Even with her dance videos, a considerable change is obvious. Compared to her older videos, her more recent ones are much more casual and it’s clear that she’s enjoying herself. She credited her friends and followers on social media – “Had they not commented things like ‘I love that you’re having fun’ and ‘I love that you’re messing up but still playing with it’, had I not received encouraging and validating messages like those, I wouldn’t have felt encouraged to continue it.” She is profoundly grateful for this support group of friends and well-wishers online who have continually welcomed her flaws. “I feel like we’re our worst critics. So when I put my horrible videos out in the universe, people still clap for it and I’m like ‘Okay, maybe it’s not that bad’. And then I take in that little bit of positivity.”
But this popularity is not always positive; Eshna has had her fair share of negative comments as well. There was a recent controversy with Samyuktha Hegde, and Eshna had taken to Instagram to express her opinion and share her support. Eshna admitted that early on, she used to run away from backlashes and negative comments because it was the easier option. However, she now finds herself becoming more aware of society and how dysfunctional things really are. “If we don’t voice out our opinions, nothing’s really gonna happen. And I think that people who have some kind of influence, on say social media, I think it’s some kind of a responsibility that you stand for what you believe in and you stay grounded.”
“I’ve always been overcritical with my work and nothing I do feels good enough. I still look at my videos and go ‘This is disgusting!’ So me posting videos of myself goofing up was kind of like my homework to be okay with the flaws.” Says Eshna Kutty
She also pointed out how inclusive hoop dance can be. “You don’t need any flexibility or strength for it. You build these things in the process. You can be a completely clean slate and just pick up hooping.” She went on to explain the benefits of hooping in detail. Hoop dance is known to build stamina and strengthen the core. Moving different parts of your body also makes you more aware and capable of working out on flexibility.
When asked about how she incorporated other techniques like acro-yoga or capoeira into her dance styles, she replied that she has always been influenced by the kind of music that she dances to. “If I am using, say a Brazilian song or a capoeira song, it’ll remind me of capoeira. So I will end up moving like a capoeira dancer. I think music, attire, all of these things are a good driving force.”
She also emphasised the need for the right-sized hoop. “I tell this to everyone. The reason you’re probably not able to hoop is if you pick up that colourful kids’ hula hoop that you can join. It’ll work for a 5 year old but not an adult.”
A Global Hooping Community
Eshna also had a lot to say on her workshops and classes on hooping. She remarked that she found the whole process of teaching exhilarating. “I think that ‘Aha!’ moment that the student has when they’re like ‘I can do it!’ And ‘I’m like yeah, I told you!’ is the best part. That transition as they learn to do it so easily and enjoy doing it is incredible to witness.” She also mentioned that many of her students would send videos of themselves practising even after a one-day workshop, and found each one’s growth and their connection to hooping unique.
While she admitted that it is harder teaching online, and prefers physical classes, she claimed that there was indeed something good about online classes. “You can be from whatever city or country and you’re still in the same classroom. The kind of diversity that I’ve had in my class has been incredible. There are people from so many different time zones coming together at one particular hour and it’s just amazing.”
But dancing and teaching are not all that this talented young woman does; she sings! “I sing for fun. Singing has happened very recently, during the lockdown. Before that, I would never sing with my thatha.” Although not classically trained, Eshna has found a way to “kill time” with her grandfather, who is a classical Carnatic musician and has been singing for more than 80 years. “I’ve grown up watching and listening to him sing, and I never learnt it because I thought it was very lame. I didn’t want to learn classical music, I wanted to learn Western, which I never did. But during the lockdown, I locked with my grandfather. I started enjoying it and I realised I’m gonna keep doing this a lot more.”
So what’s next for Eshna Kutty you ask? The answer is Hoop Flo, a company that Eshna and her team have been working towards for the last four months – a one-stop destination for all things hooping-related. There will be pre-recorded classes that anyone can access, which will be released soon. You can also buy your very own hula hoop from them as well. “We’re just trying to build a community or a space for people to be able to hoop together and someday connect. That’s my driving force, the whole fact that we have a very close-knit circuit. Inclusivity, we want to hold true to that.”