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When I moved to Austin, TX in 2015, I was amazed at how many people were into a thing called hooping. Hooping is part of a larger category of the arts known as flow arts, or object manipulation. As a yoga practitioner and someone who loves to get down on the dance floor, I’ve always loved the idea of experimenting with different methods to increase bodily awareness. But when I picked up a hoop for the first time I felt clumsy and ungraceful–the beginning of a gradual learning curve that would prove to be frustrating, rewarding, and fun all at once! This was the start of a renewed relationship with self-awareness, learning to feel more comfortable with myself in public spaces, finding new and weird ways of getting my boogie on, and becoming a part of a global community of hoopers and flow artists.

One of the fun things about hooping is that you can have fun with it (almost) anywhere. Ever since I started getting into it, I have never traveled without bringing a faithful plastic circle along (although I have been less than faithful .. the hula hoops that I’ve favored as companions have changed throughout the months). I’ve brought my beloved hoops with me to deserts, beaches, mountains, jungles and cities, to Central and South America, Asia, and all across the Continental USA. The following is a list of reasons that a hoop is an invaluable addition to my sojourner’s arsenal. Some of them are incredibly specific and personal, and some of these states of being can be achieved with objects other than a hula hoop, but for me, the hoop is what does it.

1. Staying active

I am by no means a hardcore fitness person at home, but I like to mix it up with my physical activity: weights, cardio, yoga, dance, hiking. While traveling, it is not as easy to carry out all of these tasks without access to a gym or whatever space I normally do my routine. Hooping is an incredible way to keep up the cardio quota, and because it’s fun–and there are an infinite number of tricks and combos to practice–I hardly realize how much work I put in during a session.

2. Conversation starter

As an introverted traveler, I enjoy having my own space, moving at my own pace, and not having to expend much energy on interacting with people. However, being human, I sometimes desire connection, and to share experiences with people (how crazy is that?!). The sight of a rainbow-colored hoop never fails to brighten at least one person’s day when I’m carrying it around in public, and I will often get a few comments and have engaged in meaningful interactions with this as the starting point. I’ll be real–I have received unwanted attention in the past because of it, so at that point I fold it up and give it a rest. Or I just dance away and leave them in a trail of dust, laughing maniacally!

After awhile, you come up with some pretty creative ways to haul it around …

3. Perfect for long waits

The business of travel is the business of waiting. I’ve spent 13 hours at the Manila Airport, and other countless hours waiting: for a train, for a bus, to check into my next hostel or Airbnb. (Granted, I’ve never openly hooped at an airport, but if I found a spot that was roomy enough and I felt comfortable, I totally would.) If well prepared, I am armed with reading material, podcasts, a journal and a sketchbook. These are all valuable ways to spend time–and so is napping, or quietly observing! There’s nothing wrong with doing “nothing”. But why not have one more thing you can do during those grueling wait times? … Especially if it provides a workout and improves dexterity and hand-eye coordination! If I’m road tripping and have a 10 hour drive ahead of me, I make sure to take a hoop break whenever I stop at a rest area.

4. Dancing without music

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m always out of storage on my phone. Traveling with a large music selection just isn’t a priority for me, and I usually choose to fill what little storage I have with podcasts instead. Don’t get me wrong, having a great groove improves my flow by leaps and bounds, but sometimes it’s just not available. You could just wiggle your body and writhe around–I’ve done it–but without music, having an object that provides immediate feedback to your movements adds a level of comfort. It creates its own rhythm. You respond to it, it responds to you, the sound of it making contact with various points on your body is the groove, is the beat. No music required.

Belize

5. Participating in my environment

Getting a little bit more abstract here, but sometimes having a hoop to play with helps me to feel as if I’m a creative participant in the world around me, rather than a tourist just looking at things and taking pictures. It assists my integration into a new place. It’s almost as if the hoop becomes an extrasensory organ (which it does … any object you interact with for extended periods of time become indistinguishable from your body, as interpreted by specific areas of the brain. It’s real science I swear), able to pick up certain information from the environment and translate it into conscious awareness. I can gauge how I feel about a place to the extent that I allow myself to dance freely: am I not entirely comfortable here yet? Am I too tired to go out sightseeing?

The orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden

6. Ceremony

I often hoop dance upon arrival or before departure. It helps me to ritualize those often profound moments in time, and helps express any intense emotions I might be experiencing during a transition from place to place. Also, sometimes I just want to celebrate a beautiful sunrise, sunset, or completing a hike to a mountain summit. Will I hoop for joy? Of course I will!

7. Photos!

OK, the last reason is a little superficial, hence it being the last reason. Hoops are fun to pose with, add a pop of color that sometimes match the background in surprising ways, and add an interesting frame to travel photos. Standing there and smiling is just fine, but why not upgrade your look by surrounding your bright and shiny face with a UV pink circle?!

There are many businesses that make fold-down hoops, or hoops that you can disassemble into 4, 5, or 6 pieces to store away. As a lightweight backpacker, this was essential to me!

I don’t consider myself a professional hooper or even a “great” one (by my self-effacing standards) but that’s not the reason I do it. My reasons are everything listed above: the emotional and physical benefits that come with it.

Disclaimer: it should go without saying that not all times and not all places are safe or appropriate to hoop in, including religious & holy sites, and underwater for extended periods of time. Travel safely!