Navigating Circles, Creating Hoop Community

Hooping Community by Heather Hughes

A pagan proverb reminds us, “We are a circle within a circle.”

Similarly in the hooping community, the circle is both personal and social. Inside our hoops we stand in a circle where the axis is our body and we can forget about the outside world as we explore that personal space. We can focus inward as we hone new movements, celebrate the sensation of dancing without inhibition, and experience unique meditative moments. We are little worlds revolving in solitude.

However, inside the wider hooping community, our little worlds join countless other worlds and constellations. Some of us are still primarily solitary spinners, but others are part of local communities, performance groups, or tribes that connect across digital space. We are each one of the many dancers who gather to enjoy the same music or share the same park at a hoop-jam.

As our community grows, navigating those spaces becomes more of a challenge. When I began hooping 6 years ago, I was the only hooper in my home town. If I met other hoopers in my travels, I felt like a castaway flagging down a distant ship. I networked the hell out of my first hooping events because those connections were my only connections to people who understood my passion. However, now that I travel to events with my own circle of hoopers, there’s less of a need to make those connections. It’s easier and often less awkward to stick with the folks I know. The irony of the situation is that as the number of hoopers increases, it becomes even more important to nurture the subtle interpersonal connections that form our community.

It is tempting to say things like, “All hoopers are (insert positive descriptor of your choice)” or “We’re all sisters/friends/one circle.” Sometimes those statements are even true. However, as the popularity of hooping has increased, we are drawing in larger and more diverse groups of people. There are more tribes with their own affiliations, interests, and ways of connecting. It is foolish to assume we all share a common outlook and are all ready to share space with a complete stranger. Undoubtedly many of us enter hoop jams or festivals with a more welcoming attitude than we carry to the supermarket or the office. Yet that doesn’t mean we can overlook the basics of polite behavior and group dynamics.

Often I read threads on hooping forums where hoopers lament being rejected or ignored. In fact, the spark for this meditation came from a gal who was upset that less experienced hoopers said things like, “I’m not that good” and wouldn’t hoop with her. The resulting discussion ranged from nervous hoopers apologizing for their social anxiety to performers struggling with perceived jealousy. These comments made me think that despite our claims of inclusiveness and non-competitiveness, these dynamics have a profound impact on the relationships we create.

We live in a weird world where we’re made nervous about both not being good enough and being too good. On one hand we’re told that making mistakes and making our learning process visible is embarrassing. On the other hand, we have to be wary of “showing off.” We may experience transcendental moments in our personal circle, but we are all at times keenly aware of how we fit into the community circle. We ask ourselves if we are good enough or cool enough to be included. Sometimes we dive right in to a spinner’s circle on blind faith. Sometimes we linger at the edges. Sometimes we retreat to more familiar ground.

As we navigate these responses and these interlocking circles, we must remember that we have “permission” to succeed and to struggle in a supportive community–but only if we CREATE that community. An idealized hooping community exists in our mantras and ideology, but the challenge lies in manifesting it. We can all be awesome in the circle: awesome hoopers and awesome friends who take the extra step to say hello and get to know each other when we share hoop-space.

When we take the time to introduce ourselves and greet one another, we make ourselves truly human to one another. That “beginner with a $400 hoop” becomes a person with a story and a personality. That “snob who won’t take time to show me a trick” becomes a woman with a name and a home town. When we have that information about one another it’s less tempting to write our own social narratives onto them. It’s easier to be welcoming and supportive. At the same time, making sincere (if brief) personal connections takes the pressure off everyone. We are forced to neither draw tribal lines in the sand nor mime a manic, perpetual camaraderie. We can make more informed decisions about how we interact and what we’re willing to share.

Our community shares a common interest in hooping. However, we are still people: introverts, extraverts, hug-loving hippies, and solitary observers.
For any community to thrive, it must recognize both the similarities and differences of individual members. I believe the best way to achieve that is by taking the time to make solid interpersonal connections rather than relying on idealistic principles of unity and inclusiveness. We must continually strive to walk our talk both inside and outside the circle.

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Heather Hughes Heather Hughes of Carnival Lights & Rhythm is a mild-mannered English major by day and a cosmic dancer by night, provided her children go to bed on time. We love her way with words and we’re sure you do too. She lives in Sedalia, Missouri, USA.

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