This started out as a hula-hoop column. The primordial hula hoop was a dorky fad of the 1950s. I wondered if the beast still lived, and if so, who feeds it?
Onto the internet and after a surprisingly few clicks I found San Diego’s own Jennifer Quest, aka HoopCharmer, at youtube.com/hoopcharmer. There are 28 videos to choose from. I pick the second one, “Hooping on a Beautiful Day.”
HoopCharmer, 25, is in her back yard dressed in olive bell bottoms, breechcloth, and a chestnut halter top. Bare midriff. Her hoop is much bigger than a hula hoop. It’s striped and made out of something not plastic. The hoop moves up and down her body as if under its own power. Fast. HoopCharmer leans forward, then back, now the hoop goes over her head, turns on the peak of a raised elbow, and flies down to her waist. This is happening while she dances to the Samantha James tune “Deep Surprise.” It’s an ordinary practice day — everything simple, clean, and seamless.
I’ve never heard of hooping, but it returns 800,000-plus Google pages. There are hooping organizations, workshops, media stories, videos, events, marketing plans, the whole schmeer. I learn hooping began in clubs and festivals about ten years ago. Apparently hooping makes people feel happier, more grounded…actually changes their brainwaves. The enthusiasm reminds me of early hippies, early hip-hop, early any movement.
* * *
“I have…no clue…about this.” I hear Jennifer laughing over the telephone.
“I discovered hooping at an underground festival a little over four years ago,” Quest says. “I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It wasn’t that basic hula hooping from your childhood, it was dancing with abandon, expressing yourself fully. It’s about self-expression and feeling free to do what so many people don’t. Hooping does that for people, and it gives confidence. It’s certainly done that for me.”
Quest says, “I’m tall. I’m 6’1” and grew up all at once. By the time I was in the third grade I was 5’9”.”
“That must have been hideous.”
“Yes, it was,” Quest says. “Imagine how much I got made fun of. I had very low self-confidence and struggled to feel accepted. I wanted to express myself but never knew how.
“I discovered hooping. I didn’t do it to become a performer. I did it because it felt good and it was beautiful and that inspired me. I’d go to concerts, festivals, events, wherever, and take my hoops out. I didn’t care if people watched because it felt good. And I did it and I did it and I did it. My life changed. I now teach hoop-dance classes at the San Diego Ice Arena and perform for a living.”
I say, “I’ve followed your trail around the internet [Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Vimeo, Flickr, Tribe, Twitter]. You do a lot: hooping, fire-hooping, fire-dancing, bellydancing, wing-dancing, and gigs at Burning Man, for starters. Are they all connected?”
“Absolutely,” Quest says. “It’s teaching your body a new form of movement. I also do fire-eating stuff, spinning PSI hoops, and fire poi spinning. It’s muscle memory and training. I’ll sit in front of a mirror and do a move over and over again. While doing squats sometimes,” Quest laughs.
“I make and sell professional grade hula hoops. They’re not like the hoops you’d find at Walmart. They’re made out of irrigation tubing, so they’re more firm and heavier. I do private parties, corporate events, lots of festivals. I perform with a fire troop here in San Diego called ‘UniFer.’ I also perform with Danyavaad and the Shimmy Sisters and Zen Arts up in L.A. I do fire performance, stilt-walking, wing-dancing, and glow hoops, which is my specialty.”
Might have to find a fire dance. “How did you get to San Diego?”
“I was born in Sonora. My parents got divorced when I was young. I lived with my mom until I was 16, 17, then moved in with my dad, graduated high school, and joined the Marine Corps. I was a satellite operator.”
That, somehow, fits. “How do you see your career evolving?”
“Definitely want to keep taking it further. I want to perform in more places. I want to travel the world and see more things and be a part of more festivals and show more people what’s out there. Just like you said about ‘Hooping on a Beautiful Day,’ that it was amazing. So many people have never seen it and when they do, it’s, like, ‘Wow, this exists?’”
“That’s exactly what I thought.”