[This week Hooping.org columnist Lara Eastburn considers the price of admission.]
I was in a frenzy, biting at the bit, massaging my temples, and banging on my poor, hapless laptop as my google searches went out into the ether and came back, again and again, in vain. It was August 18, 2002, and I would have done anything, would have paid anything for a big, fat hoop. All it had taken was one taste, just a few minutes of blissful joy inside that unusually heavy circle to get me hooked. But I had no idea how I’d get that feeling again. I would have begun to despair, if I hadn’t been so determined. That big hoop I’d danced with at a Summer’s festival in Louisiana had come from somewhere, right? And by god, I was going to get mine.
I don’t remember how many months it took me to finally stumble upon Jason Unbound’s instructions for making a hoop. But it felt like an e…..ter…..ni….ty. After studying Jason’s long-distance gift of grace, I set out upon my mission. I’d estimate that I drove over 300 miles in and outside the city of Atlanta GA until I located the right tubing and connectors. And how long did it take for me to produce a workable hoop? How many pots of water did I boil? How many coils of tubing did I cut? How many rolls of tape ended up in sticky, wadded messes on the floor? How many tantrums did I throw? I don’t even remember now. In my mind, that frantic time is cobbled together like a montage of alchemy in mind. The moment I succeeded, I imagine, was accompanied by Dr. Frankenstein-like glee and the cackling of a madwoman.
The rest becomes a two-year blur of spinning, experimenting, and smiling. After that, giddy excitement at watching the availability of the modern, adult-sized dance hoop slowly grow and grow … and grow. Today, not yet ten years later, there must be hundreds of online stores, local studios, and festival vendors that exist solely to get you your hoop-high faster and easier than ever before. And Jason’s instructions? Still there, like a beacon of light for do-it-yourself-ers everywhere.
Back when Wham-O launched its child’s hula-hoop in 1958, however, the toy that took the nation by storm cost consumers $1.98. In today’s money, that’s the equivalent of $15.84. Yep. But today, you can still buy the generic, mass-produced hoop at any local WalMart for just a dollar more than it cost 53 years ago. No doubt the resilience of the toy “hula hoop” against inflation is helped by production power of the factories that make them, the buying power of the massive companies that sell them, the death of a fad, and economic factors beyond my layman’s understanding.
So it’s truly remarkable when you consider the cost and story of the modern, adult-sized dance hoop. The most marked difference, of course, is that the great majority of our beloved hoops are made by hand. Each one, formed and decorated with love (and some serious, time-earned skill) by a hooper. In the nine years I’ve been in the game, I’ve watched material prices (tubing, connectors, tape) for the small-quantity hoop-maker nearly double. A 100 foot coil of ¾” 160psi tubing, for example, was $31.57 in 2002 at my local hardware store. At the same store in 2011, it is $58.24. The costs of tape and connectors follow a similar, staggeringly upward curve. Buying in bulk can bring that price down, but no matter how you do the math, the cost of hand-crafting a modern hoop is far out-pacing the speed of inflation. Nevertheless, and with all these changes, the price of a modern hoop for the consumer has barely budged.
As a longtime hoop-maker, I’ve only ever seen two reactions to the average $30-$50 price of a hoop : 1) “Oh, thank god. Gimmee!!!,” and 2) “Whaaaaat? For a hula hoop?!” And I can understand both reactions. That said, any hooper that’s loved their hoop for days, months, or even years, might laugh now at their initial resistance in investing the equivalent of 4 movie tickets, or 6 mocha-lattes, in what eventually became a hugely rewarding part of their lives.
But perhaps only the growing and loving army of hoop-makers truly knows the cost of a hoop. It lay somewhere on their floors amidst a month-high pile of expensive, wadded up tape. It’s buried beneath callused fingers, failed experiments, mountains of tubing remnants, and pulled-out hair. The modern hoop-maker knows the true cost of a hoop is in the gray area where they stopped calculating the actual costs and time because, if they did, they might have to stop making them. The modern hoop-maker continues to make hoops because they know the cost of a hoop, no matter what it really is, pales in comparison to the value.
Today, I lift my proverbial glass to hoop-makers everywhere (especially you, Jason), and the hoopers who support them in this, our communal labor of love. Keep on keepin’ on, spinning, and weaving that circle magic.
Lara Eastburn has been dancing in meadows and singing with the moon while spinning in circles for eons at Superhooper.org. Beyond commenting here, you can also discuss this and other topics related to the Hooposophy for living in Hooping.org’s Hooposophy Group and Forum. Lara is also the planting and gardening force behind discovering our hooping community roots at The Hooping Family Tree Project.