Backyard Practice

“How did you get so good at that?” a woman at the river festival asked me as I twirled a glowing LED hoop around my shoulders. It was a compliment, but I could tell it was also a real question.

“Practicing in my backyard,” I said.

She backed away, apparently unsatisfied, maybe thinking I was rebuffing her. But that was the truth, though it was the short answer.

A longer answer: I watch videos on Youtube (of varying degrees of helpfulness) and run outside to try out new moves. I order DVDs and watch a segment before grabbing my hoop to practice in the backyard. I put some dance music on the 50-pound boombox I found in our basement and undulate and spin and clock myself in the head (or neck or wherever) with my hoop. I keep at it until I get the hoop going where I want it or make it look smooth or I’m too dizzy or exhausted or bug-bitten to continue.

Maybe the word backyard sounded flippant, like anyone with a backyard can do it, but it’s the literal truth. There’s just not enough space in our house anywhere to practice without slamming the hoop into walls or furniture or shattering glassware. When I’m learning a new off-body trick, the hoop tends to go flying. Once W commented that I was getting a lot of exercise running across the yard to fetch the errant hoop.

If there is a shortcut to learning hoop moves, I don’t know it. Maybe some hoopers come from an extensive background in yoga, dance, gymnastics or, I don’t know, a circus act, which perhaps that makes learning this skill easier. I watched a Youtube video the other night of a woman performing stunts of coordination and flexibility with multiple mini hoops, the kind of moves a person might be able to make if she were sent to circus school as a child. Which is actually on her resume.

Perhaps I have a few advantages, having taken a couple years of gymnastics as a kid, a few years of dance (jazz) once a week as a teen, and practicing yoga sort of regularly. I suppose I am more flexible and aware of my body than average, though less pliant than a skilled gymnast, dancer, or yogini. Maybe some of my other hobbies—skiing and canoeing—have prepared me for hooping too, or at least have kept me in decent physical shape.

On the other hand, I’m not a particularly coordinated person. I can’t accurately throw or catch a ball (or hit one with a racket, bat, or what-have-you). I tend to drop food into my lap, bump into door jams, and trip over my shoes. Plus I think I may be a decade or so older than the performers I admire on Youtube.

If I know any secret to hooping improvement, it’s simply finding joy in the practice. Yesterday, for instance, I decided to begin learning horizontal step in and out. I’d prepared by watching an instructional segment about ten times and burning a new CD of music. Outside I spent plenty of time jamming to the new music, playing with moves I already know, as well as trying out the new skills. By the end of a two-hour session, I was aching all over and just beginning to understand how the horizontal move was supposed to happen. Half the time I managed to awkwardly jump into the hoop. The other half, the hoop would fly right into the hostas. Both outcomes made me giggle.

When I’m feeling frustrated that I can’t get a new move, I remind myself how long it took me to learn to get the hoop up from my waist to my rib cage. On the videos it looked completely effortless, but for a long time, I couldn’t even get the hoop to budge. When I first shimmied the hoop up, I was completely spastic. Eventually it became natural—after a whole lot of days of uncoordinated spinning.

A friend told me she didn’t think she would have the patience for that kind of practice. It’s possible that learning hoop tricks this way isn’t for everyone. I stopped hooping for a year or so because I got out of the habit when the weather turned cold and I’d started thinking I’d just never look like the videos I’d admired. When I allowed myself to simply enjoy hooping, I remembered why I’d gotten so passionate about it in the first place.

Now I’ve decide to make it part of my self-therapy. I get to groove to my dance music and keep challenging myself at the same time. It’s work in the sense that I may be exhausted and sore, but in most senses, it’s play. So my advice to other hoopers or would-be hoopers: go play in your backyard. Which is my favorite anxiety therapy yet.

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