August 3, 2009, 3:01 am
Filed under: art, Chicago, hooping, Uncategorized

Here I come again, slinking back to WordPress when my account doesn’t even remember me anymore and I have to log in from the home page.  I do have a few good excuses for my absence, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt it like an ache of impossibility crossing my awareness as I’m doing something else.   For nearly two years I have had a new but unassembled desk in the garage, awaiting time and fortitude.  Last week I attacked my office/bedroom with a hitherto unseen vengeance, first removing many piles of books to make room for the new desk, vacuuming entire hutches of dust bunnies from corners, and in the process finding things I hadn’t seen in years.  The room is still a work in progress, but my books for sale are now reorganized and I can happily report that I now have room to spin my desk chair.  Now all I need is a poster with a picture of a chimpanzee and text that says I Don’t Like Mondays.  I’d much rather have a taxidermied squirrel lamp, but I can’t afford it.

Pushing fifty like a bulldozer in heat and having apparently had the good luck to survive a major illness, I am more aware than ever of how choosing to do one thing means not doing ten others.  My spouse first gave me a hoop almost two years ago, and with the exception of a retreat or two, it has mostly sat in the basement, leaning sadly against a wall.  I kept wanting to attend a class or hooping event, but there was always something else to do.  This happened so many times I began to question my own sincerity about learning, so when my spouse offered to drive me to a class on a weekday evening in May, I decided it was now or never.  It was the end of a day of parenting, I was exhausted and distracted, wouldn’t hear well, and would fumble my way through the evening and would thoroughly humiliate myself as the one complete loser in the midst of a roomful of lithe hooperinas.  I pictured myself repeatedly dropping the hoop and saying DOH! as they twirled and whirled around me in unison, but I failed to make that a good reason not to go.  Clearly it was now or never.  Fortunately I am just stubborn enough to value my existential authenticity, so I said what the hell and got in the car with my hoop.

The person who had made my hoop was Mercedes Gomez, who was also teaching this class at OCE.  There were only three of us there not counting Mercedes, making it four when one of the event organizers stepped in.  Frankly I was grateful the organizer was there, as it quickly became clear my worst visualizations had not been not all that far off the mark.  Everyone was nice as could be and no one whirled and twirled around me in unison, but the other two students both could do things with their hoops that I found inutterably impossible.  Obviously they had put in a lot more hoop time than I had, but for a moment I allowed myself to think that perhaps I just couldn’t do it.  Oh well, if I turned out to be an embarrassing failure, I would at least have had the guts to put myself on the line and do it publicly instead of rationalizing twelve million reasons why I couldn’t.

Mercedes noticed the hoop she had made for me was not only starting to unravel but was also a bit large for me.  That’s not hard, as I stopped growing at 4′ 11″.  She kindly offered to trade me a newer, smaller hoop for my old one.  The size seemed to make a difference, but I still felt like a clumsy schlub.  I now had a sense of what to work on, namely keeping the hoop up on various parts of my body, in various directions, going back and forth between right and left hands.  I could see transitions between moves were important, but I didn’t have a name for that.  The one thing that was eminently clear was that getting good at hooping was much harder than it looked, given how difficult I found it simply to waist-hoop to the left rather than to the right.

Before the class I’d been at a loss as to what to do with the hoop, but now I faced an entirely different dilemma.  Obviously I had my work cut out for me and I itched to try things out, but I felt to shy to fumble in my own backyard while my neighbors did their yard work and chugged beers.  I did manage one or two short sessions in my driveway, where I felt a bit less on display, but I still felt a million miles away from being able to control the hoop.  I felt so frustrated with my own pitiful lack of progress that I almost didn’t bring the hoop along when we drove up to Pewaukee Lake in Wisconsin to visit friends, but at the last minute we squeezed it into the back seat.

Aside from the scenery, the great thing about hooping at Lake Pewaukee was that I was among friends who had not only already seen me make a fool of myself in more ways than I can describe but also were complete hoop-noobs.  There was almost no way I could be worse than them, but more important, no one cared.  I spent more time hooping that day than I ever had before, because it was the perfect set and setting.  Lo and behold, the more I handled the hoop and practiced basic moves, the more comfortable I became.  This day was definitely the breakthrough I needed, as since then my hoop has been more or less constantly in motion.  Consequently, so have I.

Having broken the ice in Wisconsin among friends, I could now hoop barefoot in the grass in my ample if humble backyard.   Since I was having fun, I did it until the sweat ran into my eyes and hearing aids.   One day I reached my stopping point when I smacked myself hard in my right (surgery) ear, causing my hearing aid to pop right out into the grass because I was so slick from perspiration.  I was bruised from head to toe, one of the worst spots being for some reason my right heel.  But I was also muscular and more aware of my body than I’d ever been.  Even better,  I was following my doctor’s orders to do regular cardio workouts without even trying to.   When my nine-year-old daughter saw what I could do, her competitive instincts flared up and she started fighting me for the hoop.  My mother thoroughly approves and says she’d try it if she didn’t have a bad back, and even my spouse occasionally picks up the hoop and flails with one hand out in the “stop” position and ignores everything I tell him to do.

The strangest thing about this whole hooping experience is that after we returned from that trip to Wisconsin, I had a bodily-kinesthetic epiphany with a guiding visualization.  This may very well be the most whackadoo granola disclosure I have ever made, but I could suddenly visualize and feel the path of the hoop through a lift-up from the waist.  I had been completely clueless as to what I would need to do to bring it up, but now, bingo, I could see where my hands and body would need to be to keep the hoop in a continuous circling motion as I moved it from my waist to above my head and back.  This visualization put the “dance” in my hoopdance, as the more effectively I could control the hoop and keep it spinning, the more naturally and spontaneously my body responded to the music.   The distinction between knowing this and actually being able to execute it smoothly is indeed a humbling one, and so now you know what I’ve been doing with my time lately instead of slouching at my Macbook.

The transitions between hooping movements are referred to as “flow,” and indeed, it felt like my body was learning to flow with the hoop more intuitively as I progressed.  Flow is also a concept in psychology originated by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that refers to a state of complete immersion in an activity, a way of being in the moment quite familiar to many dedicated hoopers.  I have felt somewhat the same thing in the course of my Pilates routines, but the effect is so much more pronounced when I hoop.  This is partly due to the exhilarating challenge of hooping to music, a form of creative improvisation that requires you to be fully in the moment.  For those of us who live too much in our heads and have difficulty staying grounded when we are overwhelmed, hooping provides a way to refocus our energies and stoke up those endorphins.  This biologically driven empowerment and sense of accomplishment then bubbles up and bleeds into everything else, and then I find I can do things that previously seemed overwhelming.  As coping mechanisms go, it’s a healthy one.

There are many things I love about hooping, one of them being that most moves are actually harder than they look.  This element of challenge makes it thrilling when you successfully make a move that has eluded you before, giving you an adrenalin rush without placing you significantly in peril in the manner of, say, downhill skiing.   It forces me to get outside and move, which can change the direction of a day and also gets me a bit of sunshine.  Although too much of this quantity is not good for someone with a history of chemotherapy and skin cancer, I was probably skewed in the opposite direction until I developed a relationship with a hoop that I named “SunFire” because the holographic tape sparkled when it caught the sun.   My favorite time of day to hoop is actually twilight, of which the bugs in our backyard thoroughly approve.  As much as I don’t care for the chemicals that keep them at a distance, it’s worth dousing myself with toxins to hoop in my own backyard when it’s cooling outside and the sun is sinking in the West.  I can fully understand why there are scads of YouTube videos of people hooping in every outdoor scenario imaginable, because it goes equally as well with nature as it does with music.   Now I just need a collapsible hoop so I can travel with it, and I’ll be in business, and perhaps an LED one so I can make trippy light patterns at night.  Whee.

If you are one of the people whom I haven’t emailed or responded to in some fashion, now you know what I’ve been up to.  I’ll try to be a better correspondent, but I was determined not to let another summer go by as a poseur d’hoop, with the durn thing sitting abandoned in the basement.   And speaking of the basement (which I like to refer to as my dungeon), I am now so hoop-obsessed that I have difficulty going down there without giving it a whirl.  This may finally be just the motivation I need to move that old, abandoned couch out of there.  If I clear the piles of debris away from the mirror, I could have a little hooping studio and try out moves too weird to risk in my backyard.   My vague hope is to perhaps put an (edited) video together by fall, but right now getting better every day is a blast and its own satisfaction.  I don’t know if you can hoop or even if you want to, but I do know I’m amazed and thrilled by what I’ve accomplished since I took that one single class with Mercedes.

If you are intrigued by any of this and are thinking about taking up hooping, here are a few suggestions to help you get started.  Apologies if any of this is old news, but I find a lot of people still have not encountered hooping as it currently manifests.  I am not providing detailed information as to how to do these things, but you will find a lot of such details at

Helpful Hooping Hints From an Old Hippie

  • Make sure you get an adult hoop, which is much larger and heavier than a child’s hoop.  It should come up to about the level of your lower chest.
  • Take a class, even if it’s just one.  You may not be able to process everything and learn the moves right there, but you will take a lot away from it that will help you as you progress.
  • If you take a class, make sure it is either mixed-level or for beginners.  Accept that you may look like a total klutz and it doesn’t matter, because at least you are out there trying to do something hard and not plopped on your couch like a lardass.
  • Practice, practice, practice.  Practice in different locations and in aesthetically beautiful spots, because it will inspire you.  Practice with people who are less advanced than you, because you will feel like a whiz.  Practice with people more advanced with you, because you will learn from watching them.
  • Speaking of watching, there are a million YouTube videos of people doing this stuff.  Tutorials, demos, festivals, you name it.  If you can’t get a move quite right, you just watch the video again or find a different one where someone is doing it more slowly, and you try again.
  • Don’t wear glasses while hooping.
  • Drunk-hoop at your own peril.

If you are one of those people who has watched someone hooping and thought “Gee, I’d like to try that,” what are you waiting for?  As with any emerging trend, some people will try hooping and move on to other things and others will delve deeply into their own psyches and capabilities to create striking works of performance art that reflect their unique styles.  I will leave you with a clip of my favorite hooper, Malcolm Stuart, who is quite unlike anyone else I’ve seen in an avant-garde and vaguely punkish vein.  Now here’s a man who knows how to have a good time:

Just for the contrast, here is Shakti SunFire, whose name must have subconsciously inspired that of my hoop and who is the most positively beatific hooper I have ever seen.  Waiter, I’ll have what she’s having:


1 Comment so far
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Hooping does not interest me, but congrats on the new found exercise/stress reliever/hobby!

Comment by E

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