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What do Burning Man and Cal Poly have in common? Hoopsters

What is a ‘flow state’? It’s what motivates these Cal Poly hula hoopers

Cal Poly's Merry Hoopsters practice Hula hooping on Dexter Lawn on campus. Hooping is a way for them to exercise, challenge themselves and search for the "flow state" — which one member describes as existing in the moment.
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Cal Poly's Merry Hoopsters practice Hula hooping on Dexter Lawn on campus. Hooping is a way for them to exercise, challenge themselves and search for the "flow state" — which one member describes as existing in the moment.

Silver glitter glints off Amanda Alvarez’s cheeks as she loops a hula hoop around her head and tosses it into the cloudless summer sky.

As the 22-year-old Cal Poly student runs through a hands-free routine — hooking the hoop on her elbow, passing it over her torso, rolling it across her chest — she feels in-sync, centered.

“It’s one of the things that brings humans true joy,” she said, referring to the sensation of purely physical focus known as “flow state.” “You’re not thinking at all. … You’re just moving.”

As members of Cal Poly’s Merry Hoopsters club, Alvarez and her friends belong to a global movement powered by good vibes and mesmerizing movements.

Hooping differs from the half-hearted hip-shaking you used to do in your driveway. (The modern version, a familiar sight at free-spirited gatherings such as Burning Man in the Nevada desert, is considered a “flow art,” like poi spinning, contact juggling or baton twirling.) Rather than toy plastic hoops, hoopers use rings of different dimensions and weights — most of them made from polypropylene or the heavier polyethylene — to perform complicated routines that often defy gravity.

“It’s like a dance,” explained Alvarez, Merry Hoopsters club president.

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A member of Cal Poly’s Merry Hoopsters hula hooping club tosses a hoop at Dexter Lawn at Cal Poly. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Alvarez saw hooping for the first time as a high school student attending the California Roots Music & Arts Festival in Monterey “and was just amazed,” she said. Soon, the Hollister native had fashioned her first hoop out of water irrigation piping and started studying YouTube hooping tutorials.

When she arrived at Cal Poly, she discovered the Merry Hoopsters.

Colorful standouts on a campus she described as “kind of vanilla,” “They were bold and they were confident and they were creative and they were so sweet,” recalled Alvarez, then a shy freshman studying forestry. She felt accepted by club co-founders Zoe Raven, Amanda Peterson, Emily Ardeljan and Alexandra Meniktas — and a little awed.

Four years later, Alvarez said the club has become a safe haven for people who want “a little sparkle and a little creativity” in their lives.

She means “sparkle” literally. Along with tube tops, cut-off shorts and free-flowing tunics and dresses, glitter is an unmistakable part of the Merry Hoopsters dress code.

But the term also applies to the club members’ easygoing attitude. (That’s something the students have in common with another laid-back group, the Cal Poly Hammock Club.)

The Merry Hoopsters meet during lunchtime every Thursday on Dexter Lawn at the center of the Cal Poly campus to groove to electronic dance music. The group also performs at local events such as San Luis Obispo’s Shabang music festival, and regional gatherings like Lightning in a Bottle in southern Monterey County.

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Members of Cal Poly hula hooping club The Merry Hoopsters perform on Dexter Lawn on campus. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

“We’ve created a community” of 30 or so people that includes yoga enthusiasts and other flow art practitioners, Alvarez said. (Although most of the participants are students, the Thursday sessions are open to all.)

And she and the other Hoopsters are always happy to teach passers-by a few tricks.

Alvarez believes that everyone should give hooping a try, no matter how foolish they may feel at first. “That’s something we try to encourage on campus — stop being afraid to look dumb,” she said with a chuckle.

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