Hoopiphanies: An Origins Story

Riverfest June 2010.

I picked up my first hula hoop as an adult at an outdoor street festival in Cambridge, MA in
June 2010.

As I stood in the street clumsily shaking my hips and watching the hoop plummet to the pavement, I looked around me and saw little girls and 20-something hipsters smiling and hooping like it was the easiest thing in the world.

I thought, how are they doing that?! I was determined to figure it out.

In the following months, I discovered a vibrant hooping community of creative & joyful individuals. It was a refreshingly diverse group of all ages,  lifestyles, fashion sensibilities,  body types, and outside interests.  I quickly realized that spinning something around my waist was just the beginning of the new challenges and opportunities I would find here. And each of them would push me way outside my comfort zone. But they would be totally worth the effort.

Hooping at the Allston Street Fair, September 2010 (Photo Credit: Jeff Berg)

Over the past year and a half, my hooping journey has demanded a willingness to grow and face my inner demons in a way that I never could have anticipated when I casually picked up that hula hoop on the street.

Hooping has become a healthy outlet for coping with emotional and physical tension and it has been my portal to new perspectives, people, and possibilities.

Hoopiphanies are what I am calling deeper understandings that I am working to apply to my hooping and to all other aspects of my life. This series is an attempt to explore how my hooping and non-hooping influences can feed each other and, hopefully, expand my community in the process.

Hoopiphany #1: Before you assume something’s impossible and give up, grant yourself a grace period.

I ordered my first custom adult-sized hoop from the Boston Hoop Troop in August 2010. It was larger and heavier than the lightweight plastic hoops you find in the toy aisle at Target.  The larger the hoop, the slower it moves and the easier it is to use as a beginner.

A week later I attended my first hooping lesson in a Cambridge park with a handful of mostly experienced hoopers. I watched one of them reach her hand behind her back to grab the spinning hoop from her waist and lift it straight up above her head maintaining the rotation on her hand before effortlessly placing it back to her waist. All in one fluid motion.

Warming up with the Boston Hoop Troop for HONK! 2011

The move was called a lift and it turned out to be far more tricky than it looked. I reached my hand behind me and inside the hoop, and was frustrated when I knocked the hoop to the ground. When I did manage to grab the hoop and attempt lifting it up my body, my timing was way off and I ended up hitting myself in the head. The other hoopers watched me flailing and patiently offered pointers. I just couldn’t get it.

I felt discouraged and awkward. I started to think maybe I just wasn’t graceful or coordinated enough to be a hooper. I left the lesson feeling insecure. But later that week I put on my headphones and took my hoop outside to practice by myself without the pressure of learning any tricks. I was simply hooping on my waist to the music and I ended up leaping across the lawn and spinning for hours. I felt strong and free.

That day I wrote in my journal: Before I tell myself hooping is not my thing because I can’t do a move, I am going to practice every day for a month. I will just do whatever feels good and see what discoveries I make.

By the end of the month those lifts that seemed physically and psychologically impossible felt completely natural. I had also learned a handful of other basic moves.  By October I was hooping in the HONK! Parade down Massachusetts Avenue into Harvard Square. And by the beginning of November I had progressed to hooping with fire!

I started taking videos to track my progress. The video below is from Thanksgiving weekend 2011.

And so now every time I try a new “move” that feels uncomfortable, I remember how I felt at that first hooping lesson. I’ve worked – and I am still working – to shift my thinking from “I can’t do this” to “Let’s see what happens if I keep trying.”

For me, it helps to give myself a specific “expectations free” time period. That way I can’t let myself off the hook by saying I’m wasting time and I may never see a payoff so I might as well cut my losses. (Yes, I’ve had that negative thought pattern).  The worst that happens is the short span of time goes by and I don’t end up accomplishing the specific goal. Oh well.

Just think of it as an experiment – humor me. The next time you are frustrated and impatient with yourself – when you are on the verge of throwing in the towel- grant yourself a grace period. Make a commitment to yourself that you will keep trying, regardless of success, and then see how far you get.

I have a feeling you’ll surprise yourself.

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