Once upon a time, back on May 4, 2003, to be specific, I was at a party one night in the Oakland hills populated by a bevy of noteworthy bloggers. This was, of course, back in a time when most people didn’t know what a blog or blogger even was, but if you did then you’d have known a lot of these people. A few of us were hanging out on the back deck of Min Jung Kim’s home watching a meteor shower. A DJ was spinning some delicious trance music at the other end of the deck. Jason Strauss arrived and approached us with a smile and 6 large homemade hoops tossed over his shoulder. They were larger than any hoola hoop I’d ever seen, and they were made from farming irrigation tubing and decorated with electrical and gaffer tape. “Philo, you gotta try one of these,” he said. While I initially refused, I quickly acquiesced.
Once inside the circle I gave it a spin around my waist. It wasn’t long before I became aware that something pretty profound was happening. The movement of the hoop around my body fell into synch with the beat of the music. My mind started turning off and my body started turning on. I’d found myself at the center of my own rotation. Vera Fleischer, who had just moved to the Bay Area from Germany, was hooping nearby for the first time as well. She exclaimed, “I think I found something I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life!” I excitedly told her I felt the same.
Much later that night, just before sunrise, Jason returned. “Philo, Vera, since neither of you shared your hoops with anyone all night it’s obvious you’re going to need hoops of your own. You can each have one under one condition. You have to promise me you’ll make good use of them.” I told him jokingly, “Of course we’ll make good use of them, don’t you know Vera and I are the co-founders of, uhm, hmm, Bay Area Hoopers?” Vera chimed in, “Yes, don’t you know we hoop in the park every weekend?” Amy Leblanc overheard her and said, “You do? I want to come.” Thus Bay Area Hoopers was born. Six people gathered in Dolores Park for a hoop jam the following afternoon. The hoop group thrived for more than a decade including more than 3,000 members.
At that first Bay Area Hoopers gathering I was talking with Ariel Meadow Stallings and Vera about the almost complete lack of information about hooping online. “We need to change this,” I said, “the whole world needs to know about this!” We agreed to start a hooping blog. I bought the domain for hooping.org, Jason and Amy agreed to join us, and little did we know the site would slowly spin it’s way into a full fledged online magazine with 2 million+ visitors annually. With the growth of hooping.org also came the replication of the Bay Area Hoopers hoop group in other communities around the globe.
Meanwhile, the more we hooped, the better we all became at it too. Vera and I were practicing in Golden Gate Park one afternoon when someone approached us about performing at DNA Lounge. We said yes. I had no idea I’d go on to perform across the country and beyond, and with such diverse music artists as Giorgio Moroder, Miho Hitori, Pierre Kwenders and many others. I also never would have imagined I’d end up performing in some truly spectacular settings as well, like the Cleveland Museum of Art who invited me to take the stage at their annual Solstice festival seven times.
For the first few years managing hooping.org I didn’t really share my own hoop dance practice because I wanted the site to be about community rather than self promotion. The audience, however, started demanding that they see something and with some assistance from my friend Roman Udalov I created a short film. Much to my surprise Gotta Hoop ended up being featured by The New York Times , The Huffington Post, and spread to many other national and international publications. It even won awards including Video of the Year from both the Los Angeles Downtown News and the Hoopies. Gotta Hoop also helped score me the 2012 Male Hooper of the Year Hoopie Award too as voted on by my peers.
What had started on something of a whim though eventually took over most of my life. I learned this funny thing can happen when you turn what you do for fun into what you do for work too – it can become work. And while there are those who say “Do what you love and the money will follow” I also learned first hand this isn’t always the case.
Over the years as the bills started to pile up, my love for the plastic circle started to wane. In 2017 I took over the ownership and management of Hoopcamp, an annual hoop gathering in the Santa Cruz mountain redwoods that attracted hundreds of hoopers from all over the world every year. On one hand I did so simply to ensure the event I loved so much continued. On the other hand it was also a last ditch effort to try and make my hooping life financially viable after spinning into the red for several years. The event, while perhaps the most highly reviewed Hoopcamp to date, unfortunately ended thousands in the hole. While generous contributions from the hooping community did bring things up to breaking even, the hoop wind in my sails had evaporated.
In July of 2017, after 14 years of publishing the site five-days-a-week, I shared hooping.org’s final post. I just couldn’t do it anymore. The high level of traffic coupled with the site’s longevity had led to an incredibly unwieldy digital creation that had become expensive to maintain. The site had such an amazing run while it lasted though and I couldn’t be more grateful to have been at the helm and to have met so many amazing people from all over the world in the process. Except for a few paid performance gigs since then, when hooping.org died I hung up my hoop too. It was time to focus on other things.
A few years later while sheltering at home during the Covid-19 pandemic I looked up at the hoop collection still hanging on my wall. It was like I could hear my favorite hoop whispering something to me. I took it down and headed out into the street late at night. Putting in my airpods I hit play on an old hoop dance playlist. I spun that same old plastic circle around my waist and it wasn’t long before my overactive chattering mind began quieting down and soon I found myself fully inside my body. All of the joy and fun I’d initially found inside a simple plastic circle came spinning back to me. Modern hoop dance will forever be one of my greatest loves on this planet, though these days I’m enjoying it on a much deeper level simply as my art.