Beth Lavinder remembers well the first time she saw Vivian, who would later become Spiral, hooping it up on the Weaver Street Lawn in Carrboro, North Carolina. She told Hooping.org, “It was about 10 years ago and I was the mother of a young daughter. Erica was around 4 or so at the time and we had been going to Weaver Street for their live music series because it gave me a chance to hang out and be with other people, particularly other parents.” Then one day this beautiful willowy woman spinning a large hoop on the other side of the lawn entranced her. “I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. At the same time I felt a little guilty for staring, because she seemed to be in such an introspective and meditative state. It was stunningly sensuous. I was a rather shy person at that time, so it speaks to the compelling power of the hoop that I finally went up closer to watch and she kindly offered me a hoop to try. It felt absolutely amazing and I was surprised I could keep the hoop up.
From that moment on Beth was at the Weaver Street Market every opportunity. She explained, “It was a while before I gave myself permission to hoop at home. It seemed a little indulgent and even selfish when I had so much to do. But I’ve now fully embraced being indulgent and selfish when it comes to hooping because in the end, it benefits everyone.” Her hooping has been known to make a whole lot of other people very happy as well. Nominated for numerous Hoopie Awards and dazzling everyone with her speed and grace and flow, Beth is truly a hooper to watch – and we decided to get an even closer look in a special interview with Beth Lavinder, our Hooper of the Week!
Hooping.org: So what does your Hooping Life look like now?
Beth: Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would be doing what I am doing today. Isn’t that the best thing about life? We cannot predict. We can only imagine and then still be surprised. I would say that it is a rare day for me not to spend some time in the hoop. Seven or so years ago, we had a window order that was screwed up, and we ended up building a 26 x 26 vaulted space out across the meadow from our home to use the materials well and that became my Dance Barn. Having a dedicated space, apart from Weaver Street Market, really helped me establish a personal practice that was also being fueled by Jonathan Baxter’s HoopPath classes. Now I substitute for Baxter when he is on the road and I also teach at various hoop gatherings and do the occasional solo workshop. I’ve been lucky enough to teach here in Carrboro, in Maine, in the UK, in California, and even Japan. This year I am teaching more than ever and I was amazed that I loved teaching so much, as I used to have a paralyzing fear of speaking in front of a group. Hooping has really helped me find a voice that I didn’t even know I had.
Hooping.org Hooping can be such a journey of self discovery!
Beth: Yes! It’s a little bit like learning a new language or picking up a new instrument. I found that there were things that I could express with the hoop that frankly, I didn’t know were within me and that I needed to express, and I found confidence and joy that I couldn’t have imagined possible. I think that the initial focus of much of the HoopPath approach, Samurai technique and Breaks and Paddles, embodied an assertiveness and even aggressiveness that I needed to nurture within myself. I had lived in Japan for five years and in adopting the language and way of being there, particularly as a woman, I had, to a certain extent, suppressed myself and learned not to expose my true self to others. This is no criticism of Japan. It was what I had taken on.
Hooping.org: The hoop has obviously changed your life. Tell us more!
Beth: I would not be the person I am if I had not picked up the hoop. The hoop helped me discover strengths and vulnerabilities I didn’t even know I had. It has also been a great tool in assisting me overcoming some of the self imposed obstacles I had unconsciously placed in my own path. I’ve always been a bit shy and reluctant to step into the limelight. Because hoopdance drew attention to me, I kind of had to face that fear and decide how to get over it. In life, I had often chosen activities that allowed me to be either alone, or only in the company of a few people, and also and most importantly, unobserved. I used to ride motorcycles back in my 20s. I had a Harley Davidson and very few people even knew about it. My parents only found out after I had sold it. Riding solo was apparently the way I liked to roll. My first forays into hooping were ironically very public, and it was a bit like jumping into a cold pool of deep water. I just had to decide that initial discomfort was worth the reward of feeling really good afterwards. Again, testament to the power of the hoop. Those obstacles are really just imaginary and on the other side are so many rewards. It’s definitely a continuing process.
Beth: Definitely. As a mother there was a need to find myself again. Be in my body and in my own headspace. Motherhood, especially in the early years, can be all consuming and all defining of who we are as women. And I love that. Hooping gave me permission to be a bit separate for a small amount of time so that I could return to mothering, and housewife-ing and designing and all my other tasks, in a refreshed and recharged way.
I’ve used this analogy before, but I think it still has great worth: on an airplane ride to the west coast early on in my hoop career, I remember noticing for the first time the flight attendant stating that those traveling with small children should put on their own oxygen mask first and then attend to their children and this initially struck me as very counter intuitive. But upon reflection, I realized the wisdom of this. If I don’t take care of myself, feed myself, nurture myself, replenish myself, every one else who depends upon me will suffer. I used to think it was my responsibility to give, give, give to the point of exhaustion, and then roll in the incurred resentment that naturally resulted. Now I know that the unselfish thing is to actually take personal responsibility for my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being because that responsibility belongs to no one other than me. What a revelation!
Hooping.org Indeed! Can you talk about how hooping impacted you as therapy as well?
Beth When Baxter began his Monday night Maidan classes here in Carrboro, I thought I’d go and show my support and take a few, as a friend and fellow hooper. At the same time, by some lucky chance, I was able to begin group therapy with a really gifted psychotherapist. It was a 3 hour period every Monday night where I did something completely for myself. Never would I have dreamed that the sequence of intense therapy, followed my intense movement, would fuel such change and growth in me as a person. Baxter soon brought into our class the mythology of the Maidan, and with that all sorts of possibilities for self generated archetypes came into being, and I feel that transformation began to happen almost on a cellular level. Old patterns of thought and being were unraveled, untangled and rewoven into a much stronger, more resilient fabric. I often found myself in a guided hypnotic session in group conjuring up a dancing woman, my other self, who had grace and strength, confidence and compassion, that I was able to feed and nurture into a possible self on a daily basis. I used to joke that my therapist would give Baxter a call as I drove from a group session to hoop class and would say, “So, Baxter. Beth is dealing with blah blah blah and I think if we could work on those breaks and paddles a bit and the ramifications of decisive, assertive movement, we can help her work through it.” It’s a powerful powerful combination for many of us who respond to movement, to work thorugh our stuck places with our bodies. I think there is great potential there for positive change and growth.
Hooping.org: I agree. What are you currently working on inside your hoop?
Beth: I’m really interested in softening my voice and learning to listen to the hoop better. There are so many nuances of movement that delight and surprise. As much as I love learning new tricks and movements, there is a point of over-saturation where I feel compelled to return to the most basic hoop techniques: core hooping, lifts and drops, off body breaks, swing. After busting out with an aggressive, hard, precise, sharp dance in this decade of hooping, I now feel very much drawn to explore how softly and silky I can be with my hoop. Can I whisper with the hoop? Can I allow it to lead me from time to time. How much can I let go and still maintain contact? Core hooping will forever be the basis of my hoop practice. It comforts; it soothes, it informs me of how I am feeling that day, that moment; it is essentially the basis of all hoop dance for me personally. Even when I am hooping off-body, I feel my entire core engaged and there is nothing more fundamental than that soothing massage as the hoop rides around my body, tracing a continuous path that makes me feel whole and happy.
Hooping.org Can you share a favorite hooping memory?
Beth: Burning Man last year, biking across the playa about an hour before sunset. Orange-y pink light suspended in the dust with a deep blue sky above. The beautiful beautiful temple on the horizon, and a lone musician in a perforated, open structure, exploring phrases on his violin. I parked my bike, put on my blindfold and hooped to his improvisational music. I realized that my soul had finally arrived on the playa and I had the most exquisite experience dancing to this strange and haunting music. I don’t know how much time passed, but at some point, I raised my blindfold and saw that the sun was close to setting and that I was surrounded by people and there were two cameras, side by side, on a boom from some kind of vehicle, that had been circling me and following my dance. It was one of the most intense hoop experiences I have yet to have, and it summed up for me the unique power of the hoop to both take us inwards to our most essential self, and expand us outwards and fill us with authentic feeling, like a balloon being filled with helium, ready to rise in the air.
Hooping.org: What quality do you most admire in a hooper?
Beth: Authenticity, confidence and generosity.
Hooping.org: Amen! Do you have any advice for our hoopers that are just starting out?
Beth: Be open and be yourself. Whatever way you are drawn to move within the hoop is valuable and has potential. Do what you love and know that where ever you are is exactly where you need to be. Learn from others, and don’t forget how much you can learn by and from yourself. We are often our own best teachers, and the struggle, the frustration, and challenge of working things out is a valuable teaching tool.
Hooping.org: Thanks Beth! And for those of you who want to attend one of her classes in person, she’s teaching this year at Hoopcamp, Florida Flow Fest, SWhoop in the UK, HoopyWeekend in Finland, as well as Sacred Circularities retreats in Sedona, Arizona, and Bali, Indonesia.