Nearly 12 years ago now I picked up a hula hoop for the first time. The first time I tried it, I wasn’t very good at it. But I had seen some girls playing with them at festivals and had already been doing poi (very basic) for a few years. Then one day, in May of 2006, I spontaneously decided to buy my first hula hoop at a local market in Athens, Ohio, where I went to college at the time.
I was a dance major, so I brought it to class and hooped by the river all the time. I had access to a dance studio so I just started figuring stuff out on my own. There was very little on YouTube back then. I’m pretty sure I taught myself The Vortex off YouTube. But I’ll never forget being at a Rainbow Gathering in the mountains of Colorado for 3 weeks where shoulder hooping all of a sudden just HAPPENED!
And that’s when I knew hoop dance was like magic. Over the years, I’ve run a hoop-making business and been a professional hoop performer around the world. Hoop dance was like the “gateway drug” that lead me to fire performing, festival performing and eventually aerial performance.
But, around 2011, when I started performing and teaching full-time, I felt like I hit a wall in my hooping. I wasn’t learning new tricks and old tricks I had tried to master just were not coming to me with ease to perform them.
Then the whole hoop world started to change. Off-body hooping and isolations and all sorts of crazy tricks were being discovered and I felt like I was left behind in the dust. Smaller hoops became all the rage and I soon downgraded from a large 40″ hoop to smaller polypro styles. I currently use collapsible polypro hoops by The Spinsterz which I absolutely love. Despite this, I still continue to perform and have honestly (for the most part) been content with my level of hooping because I consider myself a hoop DANCER! 🙂
I have, of course, learned some new tricks since then and even mastered some of those old ones (like the chest roll) that really took me years to learn. As much as I loved hooping, I also got frustrated with it, because as a trained dancer, I still struggle with a number of hoop tricks and can’t seem to get my body/brain/hands to figure it out. Sometimes I even think about giving it up myself, but the reasons listed below are enough to keep me going with it for now!
I’ve just had to let it go and let the hoop world evolve around me. And this helped me love myself and my hooping more as a practice! I mostly hoop for myself these days, but I have also taken very long breaks from hooping, too. I found when I didn’t have the right space to practice in, it was a hard practice to keep up. But regardless, I still travel around the world with 4 hula hoops (even though I can’t even do them all at once, but maybe one day!). Sometimes they are a pain in the ass to carry around but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and here is why!
The biggest thing the hula hoop represents to me is connection. It doesn’t matter how “good” you are. If another hooper sees your hoops, it is an instant connection! Or, you may end up teaching a new friend how to do it.
One of my favorite experiences in my life was teaching the daughters of a guesthouse I was staying at in the Sacred Valley of Peru how to hoop on my 31st birthday. I taught them several tricks such as The Escalator and more. They loved it and resonated with them so much and were able to do many of the moves I taught them. Hoop dance is truly accessible to anyone, and the joy it brought them that day brought me joy… and don’t we just want to spread more joy around?!
Also, I found when I was in Goa, India, I would often go to the beach and see girls with hoops. I could either join them or if I forgot mine that day, I would ask to use theirs and voilá! New friend! And we could teach other new moves!
The circle is a great symbol of connection and just walking around with my hoops is always a conversation starter (especially at the airport)!
On the less esoteric side, I also use my hoops for a cardio workout. I used to be a regular gym rat, and even when I lived in Nicaragua for a little while, I had a gym membership. But now I often live in more remote places where there are not gyms (and I am not a runner). So what do I do?
My go-to is to put on a song and waist hoop 1 direction for the entire song. Then, next song, go the other way (which is really great for training the opposite current!). Then, I’ll chest hoop doing the same thing (both sides, 2 songs), and then possibly knee hooping. So right there you have a 20-30 minute very simple cardio workout.
Bonus points: you are completely engaged with what you are doing and not at the gym doing a repetitive movement staring at a TV screen or your phone actually distracted from what your body is going. Hoop dance cultivates mindful movement… and mindful cardio!
Why only body hooping? Well, as an aerialist I use my arms and shoulders a lot and I may be in a more confined space where I can’t do a whole bunch of tricks. I still move my feet and arms and explore other creative ways my body can move while hooping… not to mention, that even after all these years I am still trying to master hooping the other way of what feels “normal”.
Which brings me to my next point…
#3 Body Awareness + Breaking Patterns
Hoop dance is a great exercise in body awareness and also habitual movement patterns! I am super tuned in after a lifetime of movement so my habitual chronic postural movement patterns are quite deep and ingrained. Yesterday, for example, I was working on my chest and shoulder hooping segment in the opposite direction. It still does not flow smoothly for me, especially when I hoop only on my chest. The movement to perform this is very similar to a ribcage isolation in jazz dance and I have never felt comfortable going that way in dance class.
My lesson yesterday was to really move with the hoop and imagine my body massaging the hoop as my chest pressed forward and back into it as the hoop rolled around. It is certainly an interesting challenge to break through old movement patterns! It’s almost like releasing energetic blockages. And when you get SO used to doing something ONE way, your body (muscles/bones/joints) actually become sort of “stuck” so to speak in that one sort of position or movement… which is why movement patterns (and postural patterns) are so difficult to break.
And my other breakthrough yesterday… knee hooping to my opposite side FINALLY clicked! So here is another lesson on never giving up… it may take a long time… but sometimes finally, things just click!
Anyone who knows me, knows I love to spin. And hoop dance is the ultimate spin-therapy. It also translated into my love for aerial hoop and lover of spiraling movement and turns as a dancer. Some people have trouble spotting or feel nauseous spinning, but for whatever reason (maybe from dancing), I have never experienced anything past a mild dizziness and maybe stars a few times.
I also spin clockwise, which is actually opposite of most hoop dancers. I have always wondered why, and now I think that I know. In dance, you do turns such as pirouettes to the right and left. Guess which side is better? My right side. So perhaps that’s why I favor spinning that direction (however I know other trained dancers who go the other way, so who knows really! Maybe it’s a brain preference thing?)
Spinning gets me high. I’m pretty sure I was a Whirling Dervish in a past life.
In the end, hooping is just so much fun and I’m so glad to have this practice in my life still after all these years. Many of the people I took class with back in the day (like Hoop Camp 2010) have moved on from hooping and into other roles in their lives and I don’t even really know who the new generation of hoopers are these days. Although last year I did manage to take a workshop with the mother of hoop dance Anah Reichenbach at Envision Festival in Costa Rica (where I’ll be performing again next month!) and I actually did a learn a few new tricks and even finally refined my chest roll (thanks, Anah!).
It makes me happy to know hooping is alive and well (and actually popular enough people can sustain themselves as modern dance hoop dancers through performance and hoop selling) even if I’m not super involved in the community. Teaching my recent Hoop Chakra Yoga workshop at Cosmic Convergence Festival in Guatemala was my best yet and I hadn’t taught it in 2 years since Burning Man 2015 at Sacred Spaces! Someone told me afterward that they had a heart-opening experience in the class and it changed their life. Those are the things I live for!
I just always feel so good after a hoop session and performance. There’s nothing better than making people smile!