Jenny Hill: Hooper of the Week
by Philo Hagen.
Jenny Hill (on Facebook & at ActsofJennius.com & @actsofjennius on Instagram) lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA. It’s there that she has spun up a hooping life that has not only captured the attention of her local community, it captured the attention of a local filmmaker as well. “One Hoops” is an amazing short film and Jenny is one amazing lady who is not only spinning things forward in the circle, she’s taking on big issues like aging too. That’s why we knew we needed to know more about what makes this awesome lady spin and how all this hoopiness has come about. So join us for a very special interview with Jenny Hill, our Hooper of the Week!
Philo: When did you start hooping and how?
Jenny Hill: In November it will be 8 years ago. I think I probably had a hoop as a kid, but never really twigged to it. I struggled at first. Herky, jerky. The hoop fell again and again because I was overthinking it too much. My sister told me to close my eyes. That helped me to key in on what my body was doing, rather than think about what I SHOULD be doing, or how I looked, and then it clicked. I learned to hoop because of my big sister. Older siblings are the best for sharing their expertise. She encouraged me to try because she was hooping and loved it, and the hoop kit she brought to my wedding was a huge gift. It gave me the confidence to dance, and the understanding that my body has a voice. A strong one.
Philo: It most certainly does! How would you say hooping has changed your life?
Jenny Hill: I spent up until I was 39 years old living in my head, thinking that my body was just this awkward and rather large organ that my brain lugged through the world. My brain always had so much to say and plenty of it was critical. I was the classic stereotype of the elementary and middle school kid no one wanted on their team in gym — the kid who was sure to drop the ball, score for the wrong team (I actually did that once!), or trip over her own feet. My body never got a chance to speak. It never seemed to live up to everyone else’s expectations of what a body in motion should do. When it did dance or take part in any kind of creative expression, it was silenced by other voices, and eventually my own.
Philo: I hear ya, it’s so sad when that happens.
Jenny Hill: It was nearly completely silenced when I was brave enough to take a dance class in college, and was openly mocked by the teacher in front of the rest of the class. I felt mortified by my body. I skillfully crafted the story of “I am not a dancer. I am not a mover. I write and draw and do scholarly things. I’m ok hanging out in the library, and hey, you want to play a badass game of Scrabble? I’m your gal. But you will never, ever find me on a playing field, a dance floor, or a gym. Bring me that typewriter.”
Philo: And look at you move now!
Jenny Hill: I have found a lot of improvement in my kinesthetic learning abilities, my eye hand coordination, my brain/body connection, and I am way more confident as a result of learning how to hoop.
Philo: I love it. What are you currently working on?
Jenny Hill: Shifting attitudes about aging, including my own. I’ve completed some training with Elders Share the Arts, and the National Center for Creative Aging, and I’ve begun working with elders in movement and writing playshops. Hooping, yes! Feather balancing. Juggling. Dance. Writing life stories. Discovering what happens when we move and how it is linked to thought, how it connects us and is a big part of what makes us human. Learning the lesson later in life, I had a dancer/mover/radically joyous person inside of me, and she was a part of my character from the day I was born. I just didn’t allow her to speak. That made me realize that I better get cracking on sharing. I think one of the worst things in the world is loneliness of spirit. To feel isolated and alone.
Philo: Me too, and I don’t entirely know why, but hooping is great for changing that.
Jenny Hill: As we age, and our bodies change, we lose some of that sense of belonging. Creative movement, reminiscence, story sharing, creating movement theatre from personal stories and imagined stories — that connects people, empowers them, gives them confidence, and combats loneliness. I’m really interested in that. Hooping brought me to this point in my life right now. That’s pretty exciting, I think.
Philo: I think so too. What are you working on hooping wise?
Jenny Hill: I perform, and I teach regular hoop classes. I’m a circus style multihooper. After playing with one hoop for awhile, I figured two would be even more fun. I’ve skilled up to doing six hoop splits, six hoop variations of the Box, a stack, and I am still horrible at body rolls. Wedgies just make me look like I really have to pee. I think as hoopers, and in any artform really, you find what works for you, what feels right, and you explore that until you discover something new. The challenge of multihooping is what my body loves the most, and I’m taking an experiential dance class right now that is really adding to the mix, and teaching me a lot about anatomy in a way that is making all of my neurons fire! I love building character acts, interacting with audience members, and all of my awkwardness as a child has carried over into my midlife and given me the courage to be a clown. I’m a total goofball, and less afraid to fail.
Jenny Hill: One Hoops
Philo: How did you get involved with One Hoops?
Jenny Hill: One Hoops is part of a trilogy of short films created by Alexander Monelli. He was working toward highlighting performing artists in the area. I had seen the first of the films online through a Facebook post. It’s called “Juggle” and it highlights the talents of two of my new friends, Kate and Jason Horst. They perform together as a juggler/clown duo called Cissy and the Man. The film was so lovely. The framing of shots, the attention to little details, the gentleness and charisma throughout. I remember watching it and calling my husband in to watch it and we were both so impressed by it we spent the next hour or so prowling around on Al’s website watching all of his other short films. I friended him on Facebook so I could see what he was working on. Unbeknownst to me he was paying attention to my posts, seeing my hoop videos, reading my odd status updates. He reached out in the summer of 2014 to ask if I had any interest in being the subject of the last film in the trilogy. I said “Sure!” Then I thought, “Wait, what am I doing? He’s going to see everything about me. This guy really pays attention to detail. He’s like a visual poet! You can’t hide from poets!
Philo: Very true. What happened after that?
Jenny Hill: We met to chat, he asked me a lot of questions via email and in person. I remember him saying he would never edit anything to make a fool of me, or make me sound like someone I’m not. I took a risk and trusted him. He seemed trustworthy! He started filming in January of 2015, and shadowed me for about year to events where I performed, or during the process of making a costume, or just in the apartment, or out on the street. He gave me a GoPro camera to play with on the weekend of my birthday so there’s some footage from that in the film. I found old VHS tapes of family footage too, because as we talked I discovered Al loves nostalgia. It shows up in a lot of what he does. Family history. Connections. When he sent me some of the footage as a viewable movie file, I cried.
Philo: I bet.
Jenny Hill: My father died about a decade ago, and there he was, alive again. Strong. And it was a remarkable thing to work so closely with another artist, as he was working on his art, and being a subject of that art. Very meta. I was never sure of where he was headed with it, or what the end product would be. That was fine with me, too. That’s the way making art works. You start out with an idea, and it can head in a completely different direction from what you were expecting.
Philo: True, it’s bigger than hooping.
Jenny Hill: Yes. It’s not really all about hooping. I mean, there’s hooping in it, because that is a large part of what I do, but it is not the sole focus of the film. There are themes that emerged as he was filming that I was unaware of, because while I was the subject, I wasn’t creating the film. Balance if one of them for sure. Family. Place. Stillness vs. Movement. Connection. The film showed as part of the full trilogy at Zoetropolis, Lancaster’s independent movie theatre. They showed all three as a preview to the features playing there for about a month or so, I think. Al really wanted his trilogy to be available to anyone, at any time, so the whole trilogy is viewable online at at Monelli Films.
Philo: Yay! What do you do when you’re not hooping?
Jenny Hill: I teach creative writing and movement to all age groups in schools and community centers through the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. I was rostered seventeen years ago as a literary artist. Then hooping found me, and now I am rostered as a multidisciplinary artist in the Arts-in-Education program. So when I’m not working in a school or community center, I am doing my own writing, creating shows, writing plays, and performing. Also taking out the trash, avoiding mowing the lawn, and lounging with my cat, Steve. You know, the important stuff.
Philo: Exactly. Do you have a favorite hooping memory or two to share?
Jenny Hill: For sure the making of ONE HOOPS made an impression on my memory, because it showed me that while this part of my life is very much hoopy, and it will continue to be informed by my love of hooping, it is not all of my life. If you call yourself a hooper, you are also many other things. People are multidimensional. Baxter said once in a workshop I attended that if we all stopped hooping, he’d still like us. That made an impression on me. When you find something that you really identify strongly with, to leave it seems like heresy. Who will you be then? Lives evolve and unfold in ways we don’t always expect. I didn’t expect my sister to bring hoops to my wedding. I think hooping with her in my backyard that November, with my eyes closed, singing Christmas carols as we hooped because I had no way of getting music out there, will remain with me forever.
Philo: I think so too. What quality do you most admire in a hooper?
Jenny Hill: The same thing I admire in any person: A willingness to be open, to listen, to share. Kindness.
Philo: Nice. And do you have any advice for someone just picking up a hoop for the very first time today?
Jenny Hill: Take a risk and allow yourself to fail, it’s really ok. That’s how we learn. Be patient with your body. The hoop is a toy. It’s your body that makes that plastic ring sing! It will sing a song that is unique to you. Pick it up. Try again. Share. Watch out for that firepit in the yard.
Philo Hagen is the Co-founder and Managing Editor of Hooping.org. He’s been spinning things up online and off since April 2003. Co-Founder of the Bay Area Hoopers and LA Hoopers hoop groups, Philo has performed internationally and has won Hoopie Awards for Male Hooper of the Year and Video of the Year. He lives in Los Angeles, California, USA.