Marawa looking amazing in Kenzo; photo by .
Marawa the Amazing. Not only is it a great circus name, but it also happens to be true: Marawa is amazing. She's best known for hula hoop mastery—she can keep 133 hoops swizzling around her body at the same time—but the London-based performer's connections with music go way back as well. She's hooped on stage with Toddla T, is a regular performing with Major Lazer at London's annual Notting Hill Carnival, plus she's starred in music videos for Gonzales and Eliza Doolittle. With achievements like this under her belt (not to mention her moment on Britain's Got Talent) she's been taking the world by storm in a haze of high heels and leopard print spandex. She's collaborated with Opening Ceremony and Kenzo, and shoe designer Terry de Havilland designed some very special high-heeled rollerskates just for her. Fresh from a run of her solo show Exotica, Marawa is keen to spread the hula hooping get-fit gospel.
And so it is that I find myself in the lofty surroundings of Shoreditch Town Hall, in London, where Marawa currently holds her weekly Hoola Schoola. I'm feeling a slightly smug sense of satisfaction at having mastered some of the tricks I've seen her perform so many times, coupled with a nagging sensation that I'm going to wake up with a smattering of bruises. (Which is exactly what happened when I thought it was a good idea to try pole dancing in 2003.) But Marawa has the best abs in the biz, so I'm down, and she's also a great teacher. She has one essential rule—to learn the basics of hooping—and post-class I head back to her apartment where she cooked up some pasta and talked to me about her performance influences, her fashion collaborations, and her quest to make fitness fashionable.
Noisey: Hula hoops. They're kind of reminiscent of 80s fads like yo-yos and Hacky Sacks. Why should we take them seriously as a way to keep fit?
Marawa: Hula hooping is great for keeping you fit because it works all your core muscles. If you use your stomach muscles to do the work then it's your lower abs that keep the hoop spinning. So it's a brilliant workout. Hoops are the best as you can do them at home in front of the TV, or in a park with a friend, or at work if you need a five minute break. You don't have to worry about having a sports bra, or the impact on your knees. It's just a really good cardio workout.
Sold. Especially if you can guarantee me "abs that are harder than diamonds" as you advertised at your classes. What is it that makes Hoola Schoola the best hula classes in the world?
Because I have a Bachelor of Circus Arts degree and I studied gymnastics and yoga. I learnt a lot of strengthening exercises. So the way I teach is really focused on doing everything fifty/fifty, left and right, so you work out each side of your body evenly. Everyone should come to Hoola Schoola!
All Marawa videos by House of Hot Breath
But regardless of the health benefits, you've also managed to bring hoops back into the style spotlight. There was even a Chanel hoola hoop bag! I'm fairly sure this is all down to you. How did it come about?
Ha! Well I have performed quite a lot in Paris, maybe Karl Lagerfeld was at one of my shows! But it's more to do with a recent collaboration with Opening Ceremony. I worked with them when they launched in London last year, and they're brilliant—a super fun brand. They had me perform at their store opening and they're also the creative directors for Kenzo, so they invited me to Paris to do Vogue's Fashion Night Out. Now they're selling my hoops in store in London and we even have a special Opening Ceremony hologram glitter tape covering the hoops, which is really pretty. And you can also buy my Djibouti hoops from my online shop, the Hoopermarket.
Marawa in some high-heeled skates; photo by Jo Duck.
I do love a pun. This isn't your only fashion collaboration—you've been working with shoe-making legend Terry de Havilland, right?
Yes, Terry makes such beautiful heels that we took one of his signature pairs and turned them into rollerskates. I worked with a woman who makes props for the Royal Opera House to add the skates part. She made me sign a disclaimer saying I wouldn't sue if I had an accident. People think high heeled skates are pretty risky, but it's a lot easier than it looks.
For you maybe, I'm not sure many people would agree! As well as shoes, the rest of your costumes are a big part of your shows too.
Yes! Haha! All my costumes are from Alice Edgeley, a friend of mine who used to be Christopher Kane's head seamstress. She now has her own shop in Melbourne and she's the best! She makes the most amazing clothes.
Victory rolls, red lipstick, gingham, flowers, hoops: so hot right now. Photo by Jo Duck.
You've got awesome hair and it's part of your signature look. Something that's getting a lot of attention at the moment is hair-touching and any racial implications it may have.How do you feel about people touching your hair?
People seem to have this thing where if you look a bit colorful or bright they think they're friends with you and they can get involved with your hair. I feel like I've got some exotic animal stuck on my head or something.
You were also the first person who ever explained hair relaxers to me.
Creamy crack! And it blew my mind. Since then I've seen Chris Rock's Good Hair, which is a film I would recommend everyone watching. What are your thoughts on natural hair versus relaxed hair? Are you an advocate of natural hair?
I've never touched relaxer, but I have come close a couple of times. I think it's a generational thing. If it starts at the age of two or three, then you carry on and you do it to your own kids too. Essentially it's a fashion thing: it goes in and out of style. Natural hair has definitely been coming more and more into style recently, we've been seeing more people chopping their hair off and going natural. Solange has always gone through phases of natural hair, and Beyoncé is now—even though it's super product-full, straightened, dyed and everything—it's probably the closest she's ever come to having natural hair. It's partly keeping up with fashion. People wanna have "white girl hair" and be able to flick it around, but more than that, to just be able to comb it and get your fingers through it and not have this wiry ball of steel wool on top of your head where every time you put a comb through it, it just hurts. But if the downside of having that kind of hair is putting chemicals in your kid's face, then, bad times.
Gonzales ft. Marawa– "Never Stop (Rap Version)"
You've recently finished a run of your solo show, Exotica, at Shoreditch Town Hall. The show celebrates some of your favorite performers (and mine) from the past.
The show is the history of exotic women and performance. So it starts with the first "exotic" woman on display, Saartjie Baartman, who, at the turn of the 19th century was exhibited as a freak show attraction. The show then goes through Josephine Baker, Koringa [a female fakir who would wrestle alligators], singer Yma Sumac, and all of these different icons that are considered exotic because of their looks and their performance. The show combines all my different circus skills and acts that I've made throughout the years, from trapeze to hoops, skipping, the ladder of knives, high-heeled skates, dance of the seven veils, and a watermelon being chopped in half on my stomach. Each act is based on one of those women. In the past, when I've been doing other shows, people would always say to me, "Oh, you look like Josephine Baker" or "Oh you remind me of Koringa," and I would always think that was so reductive, to label me as one of only two or three past performers, largely based on what my hair was like for that particular performance. But then I started researching their stories and their journeys, and it was actually really interesting. And I guess I was able to relate to them because I can "pass" for lots of different looks and countries. But I can't ever be 100% African, or 100% Australian, or 100% whatever. However, I can be a total chameleon, and all these women had an element of that.
Amber has the most amazing wardrobe of anyone we've ever known. She's also a fashion historian and she's on Twitter @AmberButchart
Style Stage is an ongoing partnership between Noisey & Garnier Fructis celebrating music, hair, and style.