May 19, 2010

Hula Hooping – What’s it all about?

Any inquirer who dares ask me this simple question (what is hula hooping to you?) best have at least 15 minutes on hand…for the short answer.

The creative contemplation of what hula hooping is to me opens a series of seemingly endless rabbit holes filled with astral musings, transcendental philosophies and spiraling, new age-y appropriations.

Like the imagery of the Lewis Carroll variety, the descent into the depths of these holes conjures near-misses with flying debris of the past four years well-spent. Any inquirer who dares ask me this simple question (what is hula hooping to you?) best have at least 15 minutes on hand for the short answer.

The hula hoop of today (the act of hoop dancing), for myself and for many others in the community, is a tool for empowerment. Discovered at a time in my life where playtime was priority and the whims and whirlings of my social group comprised much of my world view, the hula hoop worked in tandem with nature’s growth cycles; providing a positive feedback loop of affirmation, self reflection and interpersonal interaction that facilitated the bursting forth from the cocoon of early adulthood into Saturn return.

I slipped into alignment with the love of dance like a knife in soft butter.

That is to say, from the first moment I was irrevocably and uncontrollably sucked in – love at first spiral. And my internal reflection in that moment was also one of reverence for the discovery of something, one thing, that I could hold onto with all my strength of heart.

I’m not naive enough to believe my experience was altogether rare and unique. As if the whole of the human race cast lines of inspiration only to pull them up empty while I score the fish that tips the boat. These great loves, these vibratory passions, are as common as any other aspect of human experience. We call them art, we call them hobbies, we call them guilty pleasures. What they really are is an outlet for our deepest Self to express unfettered and without judgement, and for that they are meaningful, nourishing and world away from trivial.

The aspects of hoop dancing that I find unique are two-fold: the accessibility and discovery of the joy of hooping on an individual basis, and the ensuing affirmation and support of the community at large.

The word ‘community’ I use rather loosely here, because it’s beyond the immediate community (i.e. fellow hoopers, teachers, circle aficionados etc.) that contribute art-affirming and therefore self-affirming feedback. There is simply something about the circle that evokes joyful response. If you’ve ever walked down the street with a hula hoop in hand, you’ll know what I mean. People young and old, shy and exuberant, grouchy or happy will all have something to say. Some off-the-cuff comment or question accompanied by a smile, story or gesture. Call it what you will, I certainly have my theories that may or may not have to do with the fact that everything in existence grows and moves in circles and spirals, that a straight line only exists in the human imagination, that the cyclical patterns of nature and nurture are at work within us on a cellular level… Or throw all that out the window and call it a toy – fine. I’ll tell you it was a toy that even the ancient Egyptians found Source in! But sacred geometry aside, the consistent evocation of positive response from stranger and colleague alike was enough to lay the foundation for strength of heart and resolute, unapologetic joy. And there is something about surplus joy that can’t resist spilling over into other areas of life and love.

As my perspective broadened to include the core hoop community – pioneers of hoop business bliss in San Francisco, LA, New York, North Carolina, London, Sydney, Tokyo, and more – that same feedback loop amped up to a new level of inspiration. The participation age of social networking and cyber connection made possible steel strong lay lines, mutual appreciation and support for each others dance expression. Do-it-yourself-ers came en mass as Youtube video and tutorials became the new classroom, Facebook and Twitter the new phone, Bloggr and WordPress the new business forum. Within one year of my hoop discovery the 1st annual hula hooper’s gathering, the Hoop Convergence, began in North Carolina. Hoop Camp popped up in Santa Cruz that same year and countless other events would follow.

And the attitude of the collective was one of awe, gratitude, and serendipitous connection. Online acquaintances became fast soul sisters and brothers through open dialogue of personal transformation in the hoop. It’s no surprise to me that now more than ever we see the melding and merging of the Yoga community – with which many of us share similar philosophical views. Hoops are being pulled out at teacher trainings, classes and yoga festivals left and right. Just one day immersed in a community of this kind and whatever self-doubt you may have had holding you back would surely be blown open.

Diverging from the esoteric, the rapid growth of the hoop community is in my mind associated with a few tactical characteristics that are also unique to the hoop. For one, it’s entirely accessible, well known and trans-cultural thanks to the 1960’s billion dollar hit from Wham-O toys. For all our innovations and complexities, at our core we’re creatures of habit and picking up something new can be a process in and of itself. Secondly, it behaves as a literal physical boundary. In Tai Chi it is said that your heart field extends out to the tips of your fingers in all directions – precisely the diameter size of my hula hoop. This personal security system allows you to go deep into meditative states and achieve a level of expression that is a layer below ‘comfortable’ public display. If anyone gets to close to your field, you’ll know it. Conversely, in a society of little to no touch, on the verge of breaking the sterile environments of time past, the soft physical impact of the hoop on the body invites in heightened sensitivity and sweet comfort – a calming of the mind – which separates the hoop from other kinds of movement art like spinning poi. Finally, hula hoops, specifically the larger, heavier adult hoops that are commonly used, are super easy and inexpensive to make thanks to countless online resources that will guide you through the process step by step.

The pattern at-a-glance is this: discovery > unbridled joy > attention and affirmation of others (input) > community building via proliferation and sharing (output) > radical self-acceptance (centering) > inspiration > growth > input > output > growth > input > output > growth…and it spirals upward and onward…

Here’s the deal. Giving yourself permission to simmer in what so many of us seek, but regularly disqualify ourselves for – joy for the sake of joy – sets in motion a ripple in the waters of your soul. As it expands outward and is fed that ripple becomes a wave that inspires other ripples and other waves and pretty soon you to look around to discover the ebb and flow of an ocean is at your fingertips.The tireless and unequivocal pursuit of your art begins a process of unfolding and transformation. Those who follow their heart-song with blissful abandon, while simultaneously understanding that whatever art that exudes from the core of their being is also the collective channeling through you, fall back in the nest of community and shared-experience.

The hoop has taught me that everyone has something to offer, and that authenticity, expressed, is always moving and beautiful to see. In that way the most technically advanced performance artist could come across flat to an audience if the movement didn’t originate from an authentic place. And similarly anyone can move another to tears if their heart is in it. This understanding, the place between effort and Grace, leads to radical self-acceptance – a personal empowerment to make no apologies for who you are and blast it, Care Bear power, for the world to see and share.

So when someone asks me, ‘what’s your favorite hooping moment?’ I smile on the inside, and take a deep breath.

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