It was 50 degrees and sunny. I didn’t need my coat, I didn’t need to wrap my scarf around my ears and cover half of my face to block out punishing gusts of icy wind. I leisurely walked outside and breathed in the air instead of running to my car with my head down.
These past months, during what has been the most relentless New England winter anyone can remember, I’ve felt trapped and static. The weather seemed endlessly unbearable and I felt weighed down and held back. When I heard the forecast for this weekend I knew I absolutely had to take my hoop outside and get moving. So that’s what I did.
Something about dancing freely with my hoop surrounded by nature gives me an overwhelming sense of serenity and security. It’s a feeling of being limitless.
I thought about where I could find open space and a tranquil atmosphere. I remembered how much I enjoyed walking through the beautiful Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Watertown. In the middle of the cemetery there is a pond surrounded by weeping willow trees, which I’ve always found soothing. There are grassy open areas in between the pond and a path dotted with stone benches.
To give a sense of the environment: This is a place where people come to walk and appreciate nature. You’ll invariably find amateur photographers at the cemetery taking in the scenery. There’s a visitor’s center, a gift shop and a florist. It’s not a solitary graveyard on the side of the road. I find the location inspiring.
I parked my car and walked with my hoop to the grass on the edge of the still frozen pond. The sun was strong and I felt at peace as I fell into a groove working on my isolations – a move where it looks as though the hoop is suspended in front of you as you make circles around it with your hand. The first time I saw other hoopers doing it, I thought it looked magical. When I tried to do it myself I couldn’t figure out the mechanics for the life of me. They made it look so simple but how did they do that? The motion felt uncomfortable and awkward. But now, a few months later, the movement comes naturally. I don’t have to think about it. I can just feel it.
For me, hooping is the closest I come to meditation. Hooping forces me to be in the moment whether I am trying to learn a new move or putting together all I’ve learned and making it flow.
I started hooping in August of 2010 after someone told me about the Boston Hoop Troop and I ordered an hand-made adult-sized hoop from them. I began taking classes and attending events. I was and still am fascinated by the range of creativity and individuality I see in hoopdancing. I’ve been chronicling my hoop journey with periodic videos to track my progress and when I hit six months in February of 2011 and was itching for spring to get here, I made the video below.
It takes me a while to get out of my head and to stop thinking about what I’m doing and bracing myself for the next trick. I feel the most liberated when I stop focusing on perfecting the individual moves and start experiencing whatever feels natural and moving without an agenda. The real art for me is in developing graceful transitions and allowing myself to fall into patterns and rhythms to just see where they take me. Inevitably this leads to combinations I could never have planned. I discover ways to move inspired by instinct and intuition, unencumbered by the limited bank of possibilities stored in my mind.
On a good day, there comes a point where I stop hurling expectations at myself and I honestly go with the flow. I think this is the fundamental appeal of hooping for me and its most valuable benefit. That day in the cemetery – which felt like the first real hint of spring – was a good day.
And so it is in this state of suspended connection and calm that I look up to see a vehicle parked by the pond right near where I am hooping. A man wearing a serious expression of authority gets out of the car and walks directly toward me. I stop spinning and turn off my iPod.
“I’m here to tell you that you have to stop,” he says. “It’s considered boisterous behavior and you can’t be doing that here.”
“Really?” I am caught off guard. I tell him that for me it’s a form of meditation.
But the man tells me this is no place for hula hoops. “People are mourning here,” he says, handing me a pamphlet with a box checked off for my “boisterous” violation (it also prohibits jogging or any type of “recreational” activity). “People pay good money to get buried here. You come out here and make it look like the circus is in town.”
NOTE: When I first wrote this I failed to stress that I understand and completely accept how hooping might make some people uncomfortable in a cemetery. A couple of thoughtful friends pointed this out and I want to make clear that I validate the security guard’s point of view. I of course wasn’t in the area of actual graves but nonetheless people walking by might have been on their way to visit a gravestone. I can see the argument that people mourning death would be offended or somehow further depressed by witnessing life and perhaps that type of activity.
The incident got me thinking about why it didn’t naturally occur to me and what hooping means to me. I’ve been thinking about writing about it for some time but didn’t know where to start. All I know is anytime I’ve watched videos of people hoopdancing or seen it in person I feel like their joy is contagious. It makes me want to live more fully and feel more intensely.
As I walked back to my car with my hoop slung obediently over my shoulder I wondered if passersby could see what I was feeling as I was hooping. If they could, I thought, would they have hope for better times ahead? Is it possible that in the midst of darkness that feels all consuming someone could be reminded of a time they felt lightness and take solace in being reminded that those times will come again?
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going to petition the cemetery for hooping rights. There are certainly plenty of public outdoor places I can find my peace.
But what I realized is it’s really all about perspective.
Ironically, my very first hoop video was filmed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery. In my novice days I probably was less of a distraction …
Maybe hooping isn’t welcome or appropriate everywhere but it’s definitely already taken me to places I could never have envisioned. I’m excited to see where it will lead in the future.
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