Mariana Bandarra: Inside The Hoop

Mariana Bandarra
Mariana Bandarra: Photo by Victor Gruhn
In late 2006, Mariana Bandarra had just gone through a bad break-up and was wallowing in a depression that had become resistant to medication. Then one night a friend brought over a film, DV8’s “The Cost of Living”. The film, which features Australian hooper Kareena Oates, struck a chord with her immediately. “The hoop played a significant symbolic role in the narrative. The circle that separates you from the rest of the world, a symbol for subjectivity that could also stand for the never-ending cycle of turns, the 360º perspective.” She watched the film five times in three days and during a particularly difficult sleepless night online she mindlessly opened a Google window and typed in “how to make your own hula hoop”. She was guided to the Jason Unbound DIY tutorial and found herself wandering into’s old hooping on “My mind was blown. I could not believe something so prosaic could be so nuanced, with such wildly diverse layers of meaning and possibility!” Today Mariana shares these layers of meaning and possibility through BamBamBam!, organizes hoop jams in her hometown of Porto Alegre, and is now organizing Bambolê Brasil, the first Brazilian Hoop Gathering. Join us for a truly powerful and amazing interview with Mariana Bandara, our Hooper of the Week! So you made your very first hoop?

Mariana: Yes! It took me a couple of weeks to find the materials and come up with a decent prototype, and when I did I needed the help of a male friend to get the connector in the tubing. The first time I gave it a spin I failed. But as soon as my friend walked out the door, I picked up the hoop again and it clicked. That night, I was up until after five in the morning making silly videos of myself hooping in the living room to my favorite songs. I broke about five figurines that night too, and a lightbulb.

Mariana Bandarra in one of those first videos from 2006. Ah yes, the joys of having not hoop proofed your home. You mentioned you were suffering from depression. Can you tell us more about that?

Mariana: As the result of my hooping I was able to go off my depression medication for the first time in over a year. That was a very challenging time in my life. In the year that followed my discovery of hooping I moved four times, lost friends and had lots of ugly family business to deal with, but the hoop helped me. It helped keep me grounded and functional, more than anything ever had before. When I hooped, I felt like I could surrender completely and allow transformation to happen. I felt an overwhelming need to share the beauty of what I had just discovered with others too, so I set up a blog to try and reach out to my friends and other hoopers. That was the beginning of BamBamBam! That’s awesome. What does your hooping life look like now then?

Mariana: I still use the hoop as a platform for personal change, and in mid-2011 I figured it was time to quit my job and go back to freelancing, since that would make more room for my hooping life to develop and expand. In that sense, I have come to view my hooping life as work, rather than just play. From March to August I was blessed with the opportunity to manage a wonderful dance space here in Porto Alegre, where I offered free DIY workshops in addition to a regular hooping as movement meditation practice twice a week. It did wonders for my personal movement research while also putting me in contact with people who became essential to my life as a hooper. My relationship with my students and with other instructors really deepened my understanding of what I want and unjammed many notions about what I can and cannot do. Since I have virtually no formal education as a hooper other than YouTube tutorials and a very rewarding HoopCamp experience last year, I’ve learned to value my personal perspective and embrace my limitations with kindness. And what tremendous value there is in that!

Marian Hooping on one leg
Photo by Daniel Duarte
Mariana: Hooping remains as the one consistent practice in my life, in terms of self-reflection and meditation. I try to hoop every day, but since I work long hours, often with tight deadlines, as a translator and linguistics consultant, my current average is about five hours a week: a solid three-hour session during the weekend, plus at least three shorter sessions during the week, which is the least I need to keep me sane. We got a taste of the Porto Alegre community during the Amazing Hoop Race last year. Can you tell us more about hooping in Brasil and Bambolê Brasil?

Mariana The weekly BamBamBam! hoop jams here in Porto Alegre started in October 2011 and ran for a full year, which really helped spread the word about hooping, but part of embracing my limitations involved accepting that I could no longer do everything alone and that I needed to use my time wisely and prioritize. So right now I’m hosting monthly hoop jams and using the spare time to develop personally as a hooper, teacher and performer. Over time, the jams should go back to their weekly frequency, but right now I have a lot on my plate, especially with the crowdfunding of Bambolê Brasil. It’s the first Brazilian Hoop Gathering. When is it happening?

Mariana: Bambolê Brasil will happen on December 14-16, 2012, at Praia da Lagoinha in Florianópolis, Brazil. Bambolê Brasil translates loosely as Hoop Brazil and the idea for a Brazilian hoop gathering is an old dream of ours. Then earlier this year it finally came together when three of us, Gisele Losso from LA Hoopers in Los Angeles, and Pitila Hossman from BamboleArte and myself took on the challenge of making it happen. It’s open for people of all hooping backgrounds and levels of experience, and, let me tell you, to say that Florianópolis is heaven on Earth would be an understatement. It’s one of my favorite cities in Brazil. We are still finishing up the final workshop line-up, which means there’s still time for last-minute workshop applications from abroad! The event will include days filled with workshops that will kick your ass and nights of hooping on the beach. Since it’s happening during World Hoop Day week too, people who are in Florianópolis the week before are sure to have a blast with our urban invasion! We are hoping to also raise funds for a premiére of The Hooping Life and to make a WHD hoop donation at a local public school as well. Cool. You’re crowdfunding the event too, right?

Mariana: Yes, we are crowdfunding the event for maximum transparency and practicality and the rewards for supporters range from stickers to eco-bags to hoops, tickets to the event and more. Detailed and almost entirely bilingual information can be found at the event blog. The YouTube Video has subtitles in English and if they are not on by default, just click the red icon at the bottom of the video and the captions should come up. You’re performing these days as well, true?

Mariana: This has been a breakthrough year for me as a performer, something I’d never thought of myself as before. Other than the occasional parties and urban interventions, I had a very important experience as a performer last June which changed my entire perspective on what performance is all about. I was asked to perform at a local literary-themed Variety show called Cabaré do Verbo and instead of dancing, I ended up writing a philosophical-manifesto-stand-up act about personal revolution through the occupying of space outside the boxes we’re assigned. Basically I just stood inside a hoop and talked about why I hoop. The response from the audience was awesome, and the experience as a whole has left a permanent mark in who I am and how I view myself, both on-stage and in my everyday life. Hooping has really changed your life.

Mariana: Hooping has helped me “make peace” with my body. From the very beginning, the visceral awareness I got from hooping has made me more in touch with my intuitive, non-verbal essence. As a geek linguist with a tendency for over-thinking, this was by far the most radical change. I’ve learned to ask myself how I’m doing, and when I do, I take a second to concentrate on my solar plexus and let it give me the answer, instead of just using my mind to list all the things that happened. The brain can be a downer, but the gut knows better. As a result of that, the way I work has changed. I am more aware of my needs, in general, and much less self-conscious in terms of body shape and the social tension that surrounds it. I have also come to accept myself as a dancer. Not the ballerina type, slender and dressed in pink, like in my childhood books, but as an adventurer of movement — a spinning amazon of sorts. YAY! Are you currently working on anything?

Mariana: I am trying to embody the 5Rhythms concepts, the ecstatic dance philosophy created by the late Gabrielle Roth into my dance and personal life. Sacred circular dances is something I’ve recently had some contact with, and it has led to an ongoing research on myths of the feminine which I try to mentally focus on during my practice. As a feminist, I feel the hoop has huge potential as a tool to help the post-modern, urban woman reconcile with the lost femininity that has been replaced with media crap about what it means to be a woman. I try to keep my personal practice open and flexible, so that it adapts to things I’m thinking about and feeling on that particular day.

Mariana Bandarra in Porto Alegre Can you share a favorite hooping memory or two?

Mariana: I’ve loved every smile on the face of a just-born hooper, and I particularly love it when kids start hooping and their parents join in. But there’s one particular memory I hold very dear. It happened during the first day of the 2011 World Hoop Day fest in Porto Alegre. We got cocky and made it a 3-day event! Anyway, we, BamBamBam! co-founder Verinha Carvalho, BamBamBam! ambassador Milenka Salinas and myself, had decided to stay indoors rather than having the event by the river, and we were all set for a great first day. Our DJ friend was playing great music, we had about 50 hoops, and still almost nobody was interested. Everyone was tired, and we were starting to wonder if it’d been a mistake to plan such an ambitious event.

That’s when the elevator door opened and this woman in a wheelchair came rolling towards us. She was with her daughter who was probably ten-years-old. The girl immediately started hooping and her mom just stood by. I went to talk to her. They were the first non-hoopers to stop by and she was the most gentle person, her smile wide and warm, and while it had occurred to me to offer her a mini-hoop to manipulate while her daughter was having a blast, I realized that she had prosthetic hands, so that wasn’t an option. The first day was a slow day, with a couple more hoopers joined in and the mother and daughter stayed almost all the way to the end. Hours. And while it bothered me that the mother couldn’t hoop with her daughter, it didn’t bother her. She wasn’t bored. She was just watching her daughter play. And it took me a while to fully realize what it meant to be out with your daughter, alone, on a wheelchair, with prosthetic hands. My privileged perspective led me to feel like she must be bored out of her mind, just sitting there. She was enjoying herself just being there. She had this calm about her and I remember we all agreed her daughter should take a hoop home, since she was really into it. I love this memory because, formally, it has all the elements of a melancholic memory, but it’s the opposite of that. It was pure joy, when stripped of all the misconceptions I was projecting on the situation. That woman really did teach me something important about happiness. It’s not about what you are able to perform, but rather about what you allow yourself to enjoy. What quality do you most admire in a hooper?

Mariana: The courage to show one’s true colors through movement, to let go of idiotic “shoulds”, “musts”, and even “wants” and just go with the flow. I have an undying admiration for fierce performers, and I’m really touched by hoopers who can go beyond the “wow” tricks and moves to reveal that innermost part of themselves that maybe they’re not entirely comfortable showing. As a woman, I’ve learned that there is strength in vulnerability, and, regardless of gender, this is one of the hardest (and most rewarding) things to embrace, both as a hooper and as a human being. Any advice for our hoopers that are just starting out?

Mariana: If there’s a hooping community in the place where you live, get involved. Make your own hoops. I think there’s tremendous power in making your own hoops. Hoop outside. Occupy the public spaces of your city, make yourself noticed. It’s not about tricks, it’s about changing the landscape, making the world more beautiful and reaping the immaterial rewards that come with that change. If there isn’t a community where you live connect with other hoopers online and try to build a local community using the resources you already have: the people you know and love will be your best weapon, even if you’re the only one hooping. It helps to be out with friends, at first, until you muster up the courage to put yourself out there alone. Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I’ve already told you about Bambolê Brasil so I will just say this. I am eternally indebted to the generosity of hoopers. Making an effort to allow people you don’t even know into their own circle, to share this experience and spread the hoop love is for me the most fundamental aspect of the hooping community. I haven’t found this anywhere else, and I applaud every hooper who’s ever invested their energy, time and resources in these personal revolutions. These efforts often go unnoticed, but the thing is we can never fully grasp their reach. Maybe you were hooping alone last Sunday, and that was a bummer, but someone saw you from a distance and that might have changed their day, and eventually, even their life, in ways no one could keep track of. Whenever I feel a little demotivated, all I need is just to take a look around, and then I fall back on the notion that the world needs more hoopers. Now, more than ever.

One thought on “Mariana Bandarra: Inside The Hoop

  1. “Occupy the public spaces of your city, make yourself noticed. It’s not about tricks, it’s about changing the landscape, making the world more beautiful and reaping the immaterial rewards that come with that change.”

    SO true…here where I started the community, that’s EXACTLY what we have done….

    GREAT interview & article! Mona & Philo, I want to go back to BRAZIL!!!! xoxo

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