For many adults, the sight of a hula-hoop brings back childhood memories of carefree days of rotating a round plastic tube around their hips. Gyrating a hula-hoop can be how many have learned the physics of force, propulsion, speed, and that irreducible buzz-kill known as gravity. Since its introduction by WHAM-O as a children’s toy in the late 1950’s, the hula-hoop has been instrumental in teaching persistence, patience, and the exhilaration of accomplishing a goal.
One of the goals of Hoop Tribe of Salem is to inspire a sense of unity within the community, one hoop at a time. Like many flow artists, their aim is to bring people together, making a positive difference by promoting a healthy, fun, and positive lifestyle. Camille Farrell, founder of Hoop Tribe, has been actively involved in producing hoops and performing at local venues since 2008. With their hoops as dance partners, the hoopers perform at various music festivals, public events, art shows, and also hold workshops at BushPark, Minto Brown Island Park, and at the Waterfront in Salem. The positive feedback from the community has been encouraging and rewarding for the group, spurring their desire to pay it forward.
Flow arts are something that Farrell has been interested in since she first saw a young woman dancing with a hula-hoop. “Shortly after my father passed away, I discovered hooping as a way to channel my negative energy into something positive and creative,” Farrell said. “I’ll never forget the first time I saw someone dancing with a hula hoop – it was in 2008 at the NW String Summit festival at Horning’s Hideout, a wild peacock farm right outside of Hillsboro. I went home and made a hoop of my own (and one for my best friend). Here I am five years later still passionate about hooping. It’s a creative outlet to raise money for charities, encourage a healthy positive lifestyle, create a sense of community among local artists, spread love, and inspire others the way I was inspired that day at NW String Summit.”
The repetitious motion of the hoop can calm the mind, much like meditation. Use of hula hoops is being incorporated into gyms, dance studios, and is even being made into a video game for the Nintendo Wii. Motivated by the activity of picking up a hoop, where she encountered the meditative flow, steady rhythm, even breathing and concentration of hoop dancing, Farrell unplugged from daily stresses, the TV and the Internet, and soon began creating her own hoops to use in flow art, recruiting her best friend, Michelle Chambers, to join her in performing at hoop jams.
A hoop jam at the park for anywhere between 1 to 3 hours is an exciting experience full of energy and creativity. Anybody is welcome to join in the event with the gift of a small donation, which is donated to charities. When the rain prevents outdoor hoop jams, Hoop Tribe takes to indoor arenas, meeting at gyms or in various businesses throughout the area. Updates on hoop jam schedules as well as a listing of the charity recipients can be found on Hoop Tribes Facebook page.
The hula hoops used by contemporary hoopers come in many forms. Day hoops are made from plastic piping, wood, or metal, and can be made in different sizes. Because of the heavier rotational mass, hoops with a larger diameter rotate slower, allowing for more control around the body. The lighter hoops spin faster, requiring the performer to have more skill. Fire hoops used by hoop dancers are made of plastic and have 4-6 spokes extending 6-8” outward from the hoop. Less tricks are possible when using a fire hoop because the hands cannot move freely over the wicks – especially once the wicks are lit on fire! LED hoops are plastic hoops with internal batteries which power light emitting diodes (LED’s) A flow artist who engages in a show using LED hoops is said to be displaying the “persistence of vision” phenomenon; the act of seeing a constant color, although an object is in motion. LED hoops provide a mesmerizing, neon glow of flow art in low-light situations.
Not only is hoop dancing an art form of graceful movement and brilliant color, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) rates it among the top exercises for improving cardiovascular fitness as well as contributing to weight management. Recent studies by researchers from the exercise and health program at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, have produced evidence that hooping also increases the heart rate and burns about 7 calories a minute.
Farrell has a strong desire for people to learn of hooping’s many benefits and to enthusiastically work the routines into their lives. By showcasing her skills as a flow artist, she conveys a message of beauty, peace, grace, agility, and perseverance. The time and patience required for learning the tricks which make hoop dancing an artistic vision requires the dogged determination of youthful aspirations, something that one of Farrell’s workshop students in her 60’s is chock full of. While Farrell estimates the average age range of hoop dancers in the Willamette Valley to be between 15-30, she doesn’t see age as a deterrent for hooping. One of hooping’s most important lessons for her has been; every time the hoop falls, pick it up, which could be a mantra that transcends age.