Hoopla

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 and 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 very center of my own rotation, perhaps for the first time ever. Vera Fleischer, who had just moved to the Bay Area from Germany, was newly hooping nearby as well and exclaimed, “I think I found something I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life!” I told her excitedly that I felt the same way.

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 immediately chimed in, “Yes, don’t you know we hoop in the park every weekend?” Amy Leblanc overheard us and said, “You do? I want to come,” and Bay Area Hoopers was born. Six people gathered in Dolores Park for a hoop jam the following afternoon, and the hoop group thrived for over a decade with more than 3,000 members.

At that first Bay Area Hoopers gathering I spoke 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!” We agreed to start a blog about hooping. I bought the domain for hooping.org, Jason and Amy agreed to join us as well, and little did we know what would happen. The website slowly spun its 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 communities around the globe.

Meanwhile, the more we hooped, the better we all became at it too. Vera and I were hooping 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 US & Canada, and with such diverse music artists as Giorgio Moroder, Miho Hitori, Pierre Kwenders and many more. I also never would have imagined I’d perform in some truly spectacular settings – 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 online because I wanted the site to be all about community rather than self promotion. The audience, however, started demanding they see something, and with a little assistance from my friend Roman Udalov a short film idea I’d been thinking about became a reality. 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 won awards too including Video of the Year from both the Los Angeles Downtown News, as well as the Hoopies – a hooping.org annual awards celebration voted on by fellow hoopers. Gotta Hoop also helped score me the 2012 Male Hooper of the Year Award as well.

What had started on something of a whim eventually took over a lot of my life. I also learned a funny thing can happen when you turn what you do for fun into what you do for work. It eventually becomes work. And while there are those in the world who say “Do what you love and the money will follow,” I also learned first hand that this isn’t always the case.

While hooping.org did well for a few years, eventually the bills started piling up and my love for plastic circles began to wane. In 2017 I took over ownership and management of Hoopcamp, an annual hoop gathering in the Santa Cruz mountains that attracted hundreds of hoopers from all over the world. On one hand I did so to ensure this event that I loved so much would continue. On the other hand it was also my last ditch effort to keep hooping.org financially viable as it had been spinning in the red for several years. The event, while perhaps the most highly reviewed Hoopcamp to date, unfortunately ended a few thousand dollars in the hole. While generous contributions from the 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 not even knowing that was it. The high level of traffic coupled with the site’s longevity had led to an incredibly unwieldy digital creation that had become quite 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 as well.

A few years later though, while sheltering at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, I looked up at the rather extensive 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 went out into the street late one 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 the overactive chattering mind began quieting down and I found myself more present in my body. All of the joy and fun I’d initially experienced came spinning back that night. Modern hoop dance will forever be one of my greatest loves, but these days I’m enjoying it on a much quieter, simpler and perhaps even deeper level. Maybe someday me and my hoop will appear again online, but for now it’s just my own private outlet.