If you want to know what Dania Kaseeva does, just read her hips.
And her knees, thighs, torso, even her arms.
Ms. Kaseeva is a performer with the acclaimed Moscow Circus who shakes and shimmies just about every part of her anatomy in a frenetic five-minute act in which she twirls not one, not two, not five but up to fifty hula hoops at one time -- turning a Cold War toy into an instrument of artistry in the age of perestroika.
Elvis Presley, eat your heart out.
"The most difficult part is not the actual twirling of the hoops; it's the energy you have to have of making it into something exciting," explained Ms. Kaseeva, who was in town last week to promote the Moscow Circus, which begins a nine-performance engagement at the Baltimore Arena tomorrow night. "That's the part I find the most difficult -- to keep that energy going all the time."
Katia Luft, a circus spokeswoman who served as Ms. Kaseeva's interpreter, says that dynamism is what makes the 24-year-old twirling dervish's act special.
"It's the movement that makes her different from other performers," says Ms. Luft. "It's like she's in overdrive. Someone could twirl 150 hoops and not have half the energy when she twirls one."
Ms. Kaseeva (pronounced Kah-see-AY-vah) did not begin putting her energy into hula hoops. Born into a circus family -- her father, an honorary artist in the Soviet Union, kept bear cubs in their apartment-- began training at a young age for an acrobatic duet act with her brother.
"But what happened is that I grew up very much and became too tall to work with him," she related. "I was interested in different acts to work with. But my father always wanted me to have my own act and be independent. And so my father suggested this."
At first, Ms. Kaseeva -- who studied ballet and the trapeze as well as gymnastics -- said working with the hoops as a young teen was "like a game." It was a game she played a lot: up to seven hours a day for two years before making her debut onstage.
"I just learned to twirl hoops," she said matter-of-factly. "Now, for instance, I can get up in the morning and do it as if it was automatic. It's all in the legs and body."
For her first five years with the circus, Ms. Kaseeva twirled only five hoops on stage; today, her body becomes virtually invisible beneath the hoops that encircle her.
"But to tell you the truth, sometimes it's easier to twirl 50 hoops than five," she said. "Because to twirl one hoop very well is a lot more difficult to have the quality, although the effect is greater with more hoops."
She quickly took her place among the acrobats, high-wire acts and brown bears as a staple of the touring all-star troupe, wowing audiences at home and abroad.
"I did things nobody did before," she said, assessing her popularity. "People liked me because I was so good."
The recent sweeping economic reforms in the Soviet Union and ever-closer ties to the West have meant changes for the circus performers, as well. After three years of tours, Ms. Luft says U.S. audiences now "pay more attention to the artistry of the performers" and less to the novelty of having Russian citizens on Soviet soil.
And perestroika has meant that the performers, who once all got the same amount of money, now are paid according to the popularity of their act and the difficulty of their performance.
"What I did before for less money, I now do for more," Ms. Kaseeva said.
She said her act especially is one for a young woman, but after a decade of twirling hoops has no plans to put away the rings.
"When I find I'm not interesting enough for the audience to look at, then I'll stop," she said.
When: Nov. 14, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 15, 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 17, 11 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Nov. 18, 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Where: Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.
Tickets: $19.50, $16, $12.50 and $10; available at TicketCenter outlets and the Baltimore Arena
Call: 481-6000 to charge tickets; 347-2010 for information.