I have a hoop student now. Since this is a creative endeavour, I started out by asking her the same irritating question I ask everyone who wants me to help them reshape themselves, which is, "What do you want to look like?"

People react like no one else ever asks them this. I don't know why. They have this idea that there is One True Way to do fashion or makeup or dance or whatever. There is no 'right' and 'wrong'; there's 'I look like I want to' and 'I missed the look and need to practice more'. With dance-y things in particular, I think people get stuck on ballet, which is very famous and does indeed have eighty-seven thousand pernickety rules, because ballet likes being the white-tie-and-tails of dance schools. There's nothing wrong with that, but that mindset is very much ballet, and everything else is very much not. I mean, there are names for things in, like, tap dance, and there are customary ways to do things that makes them link together more easily, but that's about as formal as it gets. Colbert had a MacArthur Genius Grant tap dancer on the Late Show last year and she pretty much summed it up as 'I bang my shoes on the floor to make cool sounds, while trying not to fall down'. 

This is especially true of hoopers, because have you ever been to Burning Man? They're generally burners, in spirit if not in actual unfortunately expensive dust-encrusted fact. They would pop their heads off and share them as hackeysacks, à la the Fireys in Labyrinth, if they thought it sounded like fun. There are standard tricks and they do have names, but for the most part you're not learning specific steps in precision dance sequences to be judged by an international sporting committee, you're learning how to swing a big plastic hula hoop around all fancy while giving yourself the minimum possible number of black eyes. (This is not always zero. A pro friend of mine nailed herself in the face once doing hoop tricks with a hook-handle parasol. Sometimes you win, sometimes the props do.) A lot of them will give real lessons for money -- including me -- but if you're just loitering around with hoops they'll happily teach you whatever, and ask you to teach them the cool flippy thing you just did in return.

There's not really a formal Handbook for Hoopers, is my point. There isn't a 'right' way to hoop, there's just the way that looks and feels nifty when you do it, which ideally also leaves few enough bruises that you can wear short sleeves without continually explaining that your 'abusive boyfriend' is a circus prop. I can teach you a million different ways to do the thing, but I can't teach you how you're supposed to do it, if that makes sense. I don't know what we're shooting for until you tell me.

My hoop student is a visual artist who thinks (inaccurately) that she has no coordination whatsoever, so she spent a few days flapping helplessly around the internet and watching videos before figuring out at least part of what she wants. We appear to have settled on doing glittery post-apocalyptic emo raver fairy hoop ballet to a Fall Out Boy/Imagine Dragons mashup.

...okay. You know what? I can work with that.

[I admit to being slightly alarmed at her first music selection, Flogging Molly, which is Celtic folk-punk. Flogging Molly is great, but A) their average bpm is somewhere between '175' and 'let's kill the drummer', and B) she's never touched a hoop before. Fortunately, the salient part was that it was a brilliant fusion of two things you would never have thought to smash together before, and not the speed. 

I don't follow Imagine Dragons or Fall Out Boy myself, but when I pulled "Radioactive In The Dark" to play it for her, she told me she already had the song, and played it enough the neighbors were probably sick of hearing it. Good enough for me!]

Of course, to get the 'ballet' part up there, I am going to have to actually teach her some ballet. I haven't had a ballet class in a quarter century. I had to look it up. Thank God for YouTube. 


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