Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Hoop slump.

It’s the middle of summer here in New Zealand and finally the weather has caught up with the season. December has been a gloriously warm and fine month – just as it should be.
I love hooping at this time of the year. The long evenings mean I can hoop outside till 9pm, with birds twittering around me in the trees, light breezes cooling my skin, and the sunset light washing over me.
And yet, this year, I’m in a hoop slump – the worst I’ve ever experienced {okay, the only one I’ve experienced so far} and it seems to be related to my new hair. Hooping has been a struggle for me ever since I cut my dreads off. Which is ironic, because part of the reason I wanted to get rid of my dreads was that they were always getting caught in my hoop or knocking the hoop off-balance. I thought being dreadless would make hooping easier. So far, the opposite has been the case. I feel static, boring and lacking in creativity.
One of the things I am finding particularly difficult is no longer being able to head hoop. If I had a signature move, it would be head hooping. Head hooping is my favourite move: it brings me instant calm and happiness. When I was at Under The Spinfluence recently, my ability to head hoop was much admired. I even made a YouTube tutorial on head hooping – and now, here I am, having to learn it again myself! It seems that dreads provide excellent grip for the hoop while non-dreaded hair is just too slippery.
I have been told by other former dreadheads that these off-balance feelings are a natural part of releasing dreads for those who do any form of dance. That it takes the body a while to adjust to not having a lot of weight on the head. So I’m not panicking. I’m still showing up in my hoop every single day. And I’m practising head hooping like a demon – I will master it again!
Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Monday, 22 December 2014

Midsummer reflections: Release

We are just about to release 2014 and move into 2015. And I have just released my dreads, after many years of having them - a really big step for me.

I never expected to get to the point where I wanted to let my dreads go. Sure, they could sometimes be annoying. They interfered with my hoop and they were so heavy they gave me headaches. But they were {literally} part of me, and part of my identity. Because they formed naturally over several years I developed a deep emotional attachment to them. People knew me and recognised me by my dreads, and they gave me a certain amount of cool. I loved how low-maintenance they were - I didn't even have to comb them.

The first suggestion of releasing my dreads came this time last year. I was irritated by them. They hung down to my hips, massive things that seemed to drain my energy. I took one tiny dread and combed it out, freaked out, and stopped halfway through. I definitely did not want to get rid of my dreads. My husband suggested I cut my dreads to a manageable length, and all was well again.

So when, this November, I started to feel twinges of wanting to get rid of the dreads, I figured it was just something that happened at this time of the year. I sat with the feeling for a while. Then one morning - just a couple of days before the anniversary of starting my dreads - I woke up convinced the dreads had to go. That evening two of my dreads actually broke off in my hands - something that had never happened before.

The next day I came home from work feeling like I was being smothered and couldn't breathe properly. I grabbed the kitchen scissors, handed them to my husband and told him to start cutting. He snipped them up to my shoulders ... ah, what a release. I took a bottle of conditioner and a comb and spent the weekend combing, combing, combing. Before I began on each dread, I ran my fingers over it and whispered, "I thank you - I release you."

In two days I had combed out 22 of my 42 dreads and filled an entire shopping bag with knotted hair. {I put most of it in the compost heap, but buried one dread under my elderflower bush in the garden.}
I spent the next two weeks combing out the rest of the dreads, just a few at a time.

This Saturday, just before the new moon and Midsummer, the very last dread was combed out. I washed my hair and rinsed it in rain water that had had rosemary, sage and lavender soaking in it, and allowed it to dry in the warm summer air.

And now I am starting to get to know this lovely new hair of mine. A lot of people don't recognise me; I still get a surprise when I see myself in the mirror. I love the feel of the wind on my scalp! I'm enjoying the texture of my hair, which somehow manages to be soft and rough at the same time {I've never had sleek, shiny hair}. My hair doesn't like to be combed or brushed; it just goes flat and sullen, like a dog that's been told off. So I comb it before I go to bed each night and finger-comb it each morning, which seems to work well.

Happy Midsummer to you all!

Before {the last picture I took of myself with dreads}:

After {completely dreadless and with hair freshly washed}:

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A bookish obsession

“It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance…”

This is the first line in a book called Cross Stitch, by Diana Gabaldon, and from the moment I read it I was obsessed.

There is nothing as enticing as the siren song of a promising new book, waiting to be read. And there's nothing as frustrating as being unable to spend as much time as you would like on said new book because you have irrelevant small details to attend to ... like work, family and sleep.

I read Cross Stitch for the first time in September, when a colleague lent it to me. Yes, I know; I’m about 25 years behind the times, as this book was first published in the 1990s. But better late than never, right? I had heard a lot about this book, and it seemed to be one that inspired much devotion from its readers.
I bought second-hand copies of the first three books in the Cross Stitch series - there are, I think, about nine in all - and quickly found myself unable to read anything else. I just kept wanting to read Cross Stitch.
It tells the story of Claire, an English nurse who, in the summer of 1946, is on holiday in the Highlands of Scotland with her historian husband, Frank. On the festival of Beltane Claire wanders into an ancient stone circle, has a very odd experience there and eventually realises she’s been sucked back in time to the year 1743. Alone, friendless, unable to escape the Scots and suspected by the English, Claire is eventually forced to marry a young Scottish warrior, Jamie.
If you’ve read the book you’ll know what happens next, and if you haven’t … go read it to find out what happens next!
By early October I had to go cold turkey on Cross Stitch. I was on to the second book by this time, Dragonfly In Amber, which was just as compelling as the first book but with a sense of growing doom breathing from it. I began to dream about the story. Twice I woke myself and my husband up in the middle of the night by bursting into tears in my sleep. I didn’t want to go to work – I just wanted to read my book.
So I got my husband to hide the books from me. Yes, it was that bad.
What is it about these books that inspire such obsession? Well, they are extremely well-written. They’re rollicking good stories, with plenty of adventure and humour. They’re richly detailed, without being boring. They suck you into the world of 18th century Scotland; you can almost smell the mist, the cold, the dirt and sweat, the wool of the Highland kilts. It’s the wonderful characters that really get me, though: they’re so realistic and well-rounded that you quickly feel like you know them.
You can read more reviews of Cross Stitch here.
Starz has recently released a TV series of the book, called Outlander, which is worth watching. John and I have been watching it on Lightbox.
[Just to clarify: the book is called Cross Stitch in New Zealand, but is known as Outlander in other countries.]
Happy reading,
Anne-Marie x

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

All about head hooping.

Ta-da! Here is my very first hoop tutorial on YouTube, which covers a few head hooping moves. It was nerve-wracking to make, and I'm not thrilled with how it came out, but I decided not to be a perfectionist about it.

I didn't ever intend to make a tutorial video, but I've had quite a few questions on Instagram about how to head hoop, and this seemed the best way to deal with those questions.

I hope you enjoy my first hoop tutorial!

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Monday, 20 October 2014

Do the work.

I love my online hoop community. Being a mostly solitary hooper - which suits me fine - I still appreciate the interaction with like-minded hoopers on hooping forums such as Facebook. But sometimes I encounter someone who makes me shake my head. Like the young woman who wrote this message on a recent forum:
“I’ve been hooping for a couple of weeks and I’ve learned a few moves, but it frustrates me that I can’t hoop like [insert famous hooper’s name]. Can anyone tell me some tricks that will  give me flow?”

I've had a couple of students over the years who have said to me, I'm not interested in this waist-hooping crap, teach me to hoop like you.
First of all I do understand these hoopers' sentiments. I distinctly remember being a couple of weeks into my hoop journey and thinking, this feels so good but I wish I could really flow with my hoop. Followed by, if I keep working I’ll get there, eventually. I never wanted, or expected, a short-cut to hoop flow. If someone gave me the ability to magically become the best hooper in the world, instantly, I don’t think I’d take it.
Because hooping, like any practice, is a journey; and it’s a journey with no end-point. It’s that very journey that I love. I don’t hoop to become a famous hooper or to impress people [although I do enjoy inspiring people to take up the hoop themselves] … I hoop because it feels good, it gives me the ability to express things within me that can’t be expressed any other way, it teaches me about myself. I love the days hooping makes me feel graceful and powerful. I love the days when everything is effortless and I drop into flow almost immediately. I even love the days that I am low in energy – because I know I need to go back to the basics. And the days that I am frustrated - because I know I’m learning.
And guess what? The famous hooper that this newbie hooper referenced is still working on her flow, even after years and years in the hoop.
One of the great things about hooping, that makes it so accessible to anyone, is how quickly you progress. If you practise for 30 minutes every day for six months you will be amazed at how much you will learn. But you cannot expect to pick up a hoop and have instant flow.
You need to do the work.
Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Weekend, alone.

Last weekend my husband and my stepdaughter went away for two days, leaving me along at home with only my wee doggie, Monty, for company.

When I first realised I would be alone all weekend, the thought scared me. I used to be so good at being alone, and was quite comfortable spending an entire week in my own company. But since I got married I’ve become used to having other people around at [nearly] all times. What would I do with a weekend to myself?

But as Friday rolled around, and I got ready to head home from work to a silent house, I realised I was looking forward to it. Here was an opportunity to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without needing to take other people into consideration.

So this is what I did with my weekend alone:

I spent most of Saturday on the back lawn, in my pyjamas, hooping. [Pyjamas are good for hooping in, by the way.]

I stayed up till 3am Saturday morning watching all eight episodes of Outlander [sigh] and till 3am Sunday reading The Bronze Horseman [meh].

I ate Thai takeaways. I visited friends.

I did some spring cleaning.

The sun shone all weekend, so Monty and I went to the beach. He followed interesting smells all over the beach, and I paddled in the water and hooped.

Such a simple weekend, yet such a delight. I felt reacquainted with myself. I felt refreshed - like I'd drunk a glass of cool water on a hot summer's day.

And, of course, when my people arrived home Sunday afternoon, I was very happy to see them again.

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Friday, 10 October 2014

Confessions of a bodyrocker.

Hurting my arm has turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise. I haven't stopped hooping; but I have changed the way I hoop. I've become a bodyrocker!

In my hoop journey to date I've been - inspired by hoopers like Tiana Zoumer - an off-body hooper. By "off-body" I mean hooping that is driven mostly by the hands and arms, and incorporates jumps, throws, tosses, hand-spins, etc.

"On-body" - or bodyrocking - is the opposite. It's hooping that is propelled by the core: waist, hips, shoulder, chest, legs or head. Since I was over-using my arm by hooping off-body, it made sense to change my focus to on-body hooping.

Off-body hooping is definitely the fashion du jour, particularly for younger hoopers. And it looks incredibly cool. But, as I'm discovering, bodyrocking feels good ... and these days I am all about how hooping feels.

It's easy to get caught up in hooping's fancy tricks. There is so much to learn; the ways of the hoop are apparently infinite, and it's exciting to nail that move you've been practising for ages. I still get this feeling. But I'm also discovering the delight of a simple waist groove to a song I love - just me and the hoop in a perfect partnership.

What you don't get from all those fancy off-body tricks is the sensation of the hoop moving around the body. Isn't that what turned us all on to hooping in the first place? Do you remember that moment when the hoop rolled across your belly for the very first time and you thought, wow, I'm hooping, and it feels amazing? I'm re-discovering that feeling, and I love it.

As well as going back to the basics, I'm also learning some more difficult body grooves such as angled shoulder hooping. Wow. That stuff is hard! But it still involves spinning the hoop around the body ... oh, and it's giving me abs of steel, which I'm not complaining about.

More to come on bodyrocking soon!

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

PS. Here's an incredible example of on-body hooping from the goddess of bodyrocking, Anah Reichenbach:

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A cautionary tale for hoopers.

Hoopers can be an obsessive lot. Who can blame us? What's not to love about something that brings us joy, dance, community, fun, peace, and confidence? Certainly I have been obsessed with the hoop since I first picked it up in March 2012.
But now I am discovering the dark side of my hoop obsession.
I have a hooping injury. I’ve had low-level discomfort up and down my right arm for the past month, which has risen to pain, stiffness and tingling this week.
I’ve had repetitive strain injuries before – not uncommon for journalists and writers – but this is altogether different. This is not confined to pain in my lower arm; it’s the entire arm from the shoulder blade to the palm, and it’s a variety of different sensations.
And it gets worse, much worse, after I hoop.
It’s my own fault. I’ve always known I needed to look after my body. Hooping is great cardio exercise but it does not stretch your body or strengthen it. I was so obsessed with hooping that I had no interest in doing any other exercise. I’ve also neglected to hoop on both sides of my body, meaning that my dominant side has taken most of the strain.
Now I face the prospect of not being able to hoop for some time, which makes me very sad.
If you are a hooper, please look after your body. Do yoga, stretch, lift weights, and learn every move you possibly can in your non-dominant direction to keep your body balanced, strong and healthy for years to come.
Happy [and safe] hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Saturday, 2 August 2014

What I should be doing at Imbolc.

Monty and I admiring daffodils at Kowhai Park.

Today is Imbolc, or First Light, the mid point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Officially, winter has another month to go here in New Zealand; but right now you'd never know it. Spring is bursting out every where - warm north-west breezes blowing, daffodils blooming, birds singing, and daylight lengthening.

This is my one day off work this week, and I lay in bed this morning and thought of all the things I should be doing: you know, cleaning-the-bathroom-type things. Then I remembered it was Imbolc, and instead decided I would do the bare necessities of SHOULD today, and no more. I do far too much SHOULD.

As if to emphasise my decision, my body has gone out in protest. Doing almost anything - including hooping!! - makes the muscles in my back, neck, shoulders and arms spasm painfully. This is probably the result of too much work and study. I really need a massage and some serious relaxation.

So I have spent most of today doing very little, and it's been most enjoyable [despite the nagging voice telling me how lazy I am]. The best part of the day so far has been walking with Monty through the trees and daffodils and sunshine of Kowhai Park. Tonight I'm looking forward to having a hot bath to try and ease my aching body.

I want more of this. I don't want to slack off from my responsibilities, but I do want more fresh air and relaxation in my life. It's nearly spring - what better time is there for fresh air and relaxation???

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Why I'm not teaching anymore.

After thinking about it for a while, I've decided I'm not teaching hoop any more. Well, maybe not for a couple of years.

I'm just not ready for it.

I know that might sound silly, since I taught my first class when I'd been hooping for just six months. I'm happy to teach informally, as I do at the River City Hoopers, but I don't want to teach formal classes any more.

I've noticed that it is acceptable for any one who can swing a hoop to set themselves up as a teacher. That's what happened with me. That's the ad hoc way the hoop community operates; and there's nothing wrong with a hoop enthusiast teaching interested people how to hoop [especially in a place where there are no other hoop teachers].

But for me, personally, it doesn't feel right any more.

I have been hooping for just over two years - I'm hardly an expert. If I'd been learning ballet or football for two years, I'd never think of setting myself up as a teacher. I consider myself an intermediate hooper, and I probably will be for another couple of years. I am still very much finding my own flow, my own language, within the hoop. For now, I want my own learning to be my main focus.

The other issue I have with teaching hoop is that I haven't yet learned to teach authentically. Hooping is so much more to me than just physical exercise, but I find it difficult to communicate this to others. I want to learn how to do this before I teach again. May be I will take some teacher training to help me with this.

Of course, this doesn't mean I will never teach any one any thing to do with the hoop, ever again. If I meet some one who wants to learn from me, I'm not going to turn them away. The more hoop love there is in this world the better!

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Sunday, 20 July 2014

On comparing myself to others.

The hoop is a source of such joy for me that I hate negative emotions coming any where near it.

Yet some times the hoop has difficult lessons to teach me, such as uncovering a dark part of my personality. Like … ooh, let’s see, my tendency to compare myself to other hoopers.


I’ve written before about comparison and how futile it is. But it seems that learning not to compare myself as a hooper is going to be a long journey for me.

I noticed recently that I had started feeling dissatisfied with my hooping. Winter doesn’t help, but there was more to it than that. It often happened after I had been on Facebook, where my feed was dominated by posts from a very large hoop group. While every person in that group was drawn there by a mutual love of the hoop, I seemed to have very little in common with the majority of them.

I started comparing myself to them. Unfavourably. Because, let’s face it, I’m not a 20 year old in a teeny tiny bikini, doing astonishing things with a teeny tiny hoop after just six months of hooping.

“Well, that’s it. You’re a failure,” says the very nasty voice in my head.

And it doesn’t stop with hooping. A friend posts about her world travels. Another friend is making a decent living as an artist. And I hear about yet another who has just snagged a book deal.

“Look at them. What are YOU doing? You suck,” says that nasty voice again.

Perhaps I should cocoon myself from the world so I don’t ever have any one to compare myself to? Nah. Sounds a bit lonely, doesn’t it?

I did have some thing of a revelation while I was hooping the other day. When I’m comparing myself to some one else I’m thinking about the other person and what they are doing, rather than what I’m doing. I can’t control what other people do. They’re just trucking along, doing their thing.

So may be that’s what I need to learn how to do. I can’t be any body else. I can only be me, in and out of the hoop.

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The best ever chicken casserole {and that's no lie}.

Wow, winter has arrived with a vengeance here in New Zealand! After last year’s complete lack of winter, and a very mild start to this winter, it’s almost a relief that the cold weather has finally arrived. It’s July – we’re supposed to be scraping ice off our cars in the mornings!

Casseroles are a must-have in my recipe book for winter, and I am always on the look-out for new casserole recipes. Feel free to share any. But I reckon you’d have to go a long way to beat this fantastic recipe for chicken and white wine casserole. It’s easy to make, it’s warming, and it can easily be doubled or halved.

I serve it with lots of brown rice or cous cous, and fresh bread if I have it on hand. You can substitute the vegetables I’ve listed here for any you might have on hand - cauliflower, kumara, green beans, pumpkin would all be good. Although I do think carrots are essential.

Serves 4.

500g chicken breast or boneless thighs, each piece cut in half
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1T flour
3 sprigs thyme
2 onions, diced
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 medium unpeeled potatoes, chopped into small pieces
½ cup frozen peas
½ cup frozen corn kernels
Handful chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Pre-heat the oven to 180degC.
Put the chopped vegetables, except peas and corn,  in a large casserole dish. Sprinkle the flour over the top. Put chicken on top. Pour the tomatoes, white wine and stock in, and season with some freshly ground black pepper. Tuck the thyme in to the casserole. Cover.
Put into a hot oven and cook for one hour.
Remove casserole from the oven and take the lid off. Put back in the oven and cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the gravy is starting to thicken.
Remove from the oven and take each piece of chicken out, shred into smaller pieces, and mix back into the casserole. Stir in the peas, corn and parsley, and serve.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Winter hooping.

Rugged up on a chilly morning.

Summer and hooping are natural companions. Summer and hooping go together like ice-cream and jandals, like sea and swimming, like dog and walks. I love hooping in summer, especially in the long, warm evenings after the heat of the day is over.

Winter and hooping? They don't go together quite so well.

Unless you have a very spacious house, or you live somewhere that doesn't really have a winter, hooping in the cold months can be a challenge. In my part of New Zealand we don't have snow to contend with, or even a long winter, but we do get a lot of rain and wind - which can last all through spring.

I, of course, do hoop right through winter but there's no doubt my winter hoop practice is different from my summer hoop practice. Because I often struggle with the winter blues my winter hoop practice is more important than my summer hoop practice. I thought I would share with you my tips for hooping in winter.

Make yourself do it. It's not always easy to motivate yourself to hoop when it's freezing cold. But I set myself a goal in autumn to hoop a minimum of 15 minutes per day, no matter what, and so far I haven't missed a day. Only the days I only manage 15 minutes I don't feel bad about it.

Make the most of the good weather. This winter we've been blessed with a couple of weekends of calm blue skies and mild temperatures. On those weekends I may have had plans to clean the bathroom and do the groceries, but you can bet I abandoned those plans in favour of hooping outside in the sun for most of the weekend.

Challenge yourself. I have limited space to hoop inside, but I do it anyway. Having a wide open space to hoop in is great, but sometimes challenging yourself by hooping in a constrained space can be good for your practice. Winter is your chance to try things like this out.

Hoop with others. Join a local hoop jam or, as I did, start one of your own. It's always fun to have some company while you hoop.

Focus on other things. Hooping in winter may be hard but you can focus on other things that will benefit your hooping once summer rolls around again. For example, yoga is really good to keep your body supple over winter, which can only benefit your practice.

Accept it. Hooping in winter will never be the same as hooping in summer. That's just the way it is. But summer will roll around again, and before you know it you'll be complaining it's too hot to hoop!

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Hooping for dark times.

Two happy-making things.

I'm not in a good headspace right now; in fact I'm struggling to cope with a lot of day-to-day living.

I know exactly what this is about: one area of my life is unpleasant for me, and I feel like I'm unable to get out of the situation or do anything about it.

I'm feeling powerless.

I'm feeling anxious and disconnected. I'm struggling to find the joy that normally comes so easily to me.

I have, of course, been here before - more times than I wish. So I know the depression will pass; it always does; I just wish it would pass sooner!

I'm trying to keep my head above water by looking after myself physically - eating fruit, getting enough fresh air and sunshine, and going to bed early.

I've also put together a plan to make the unpleasant situation easier, and to [eventually] get away from it.

And each morning I honour my commitment to my hoop. I get up and, no matter how crap I feel, I hoop for 15 minutes. When I can, I hoop during my lunch break and after work.

When I hoop I feel better. My hoop gives me the space to be creative, to move, to free my mind from doubt and fear. I feel "normal" again - as though there is hope for me still.

This morning on Facebook my teacher, Christine [I consider her one of my teachers even though we've never met in person], wrote this:

That way that you feel when you're dancing and it's just you and the music and you've totally got this? That. That's the true you. No baggage. No garbage. Free. You.

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Wednesday, 16 April 2014


It’s hard for me to believe that once I suffered regularly from dizziness and nausea.
An apparently inherited condition – several female members of my family have it – it appeared to be brought on by stress and tiredness.
It was mild, but it was very unpleasant while it lasted.
When I began hoopdance two years ago I thought I may not be able to continue with it because of the nausea and dizziness. Turning and spinning with the hoop are essential skills, but they made me feel off-balance and sick. But my love for the hoop was so great that I couldn’t give it up. Not even for the sake of my balance. I kept pushing on through and tried to ride the unpleasant sensations rather than fighting them.
And then the day came when I realised I hadn’t had an attack of dizziness and nausea for weeks, then months. Not only that, I was enjoying the sensation making myself dizzy through spinning with my hoop. It’s a different sort of dizziness to the version I used to suffer from, although I can’t exactly explain how. But I do know that spinning in circles can be very focusing – your surroundings disappear and all that’s left are you and your hoop.
I’ve spun myself around for long enough now that I know my dizziness and my body’s reaction to it very well. I know where my edge is and when to stop, so I don’t cause myself harm. I know when the dizziness will kick in. I know what to do to ease the dizziness away.
One of my earliest and most dedicated students also had a problem with dizziness and nausea. She couldn’t do the slowest turn without her head spinning; but she loved to hoop. I shared with her my story. “I can’t guarantee the same thing will happen to you but you never know…”
At Monday night’s hoop jam I noticed this woman doing the most beautiful continuous vortex, which requires a lot of turning. Of course I had to remark on how far she’d come from the days when she was afraid to attempt that move.
She giggled like a girl. “It’s my favourite move. I love spinning in circles!”
Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Dancing with Tiana.

Tiana Zoumer [front] leads a workshop on chest rolls on the main lawn at NZ HoopFest. Photo by Natasha Halliday.

It’s been two weeks since HoopFest 2014 happened and I’m only just now getting around to writing about it!
I’d been looking forward to HoopFest for months. I love the opportunity to immerse myself in hooping for two whole days, with no distractions. In “real” life, hooping is something I have to fit in around my work and family life. At HoopFest [and Under The Spinfluence] I can forget about both of those responsibilities. HoopFest is held at Brookfield Scout Camp in the hills behind Wainuiomata, where there is no mobile coverage, no internet, no newspaper, no television, no outside world at all. I don’t have to worry about writing tomorrow’s front page lead, or cooking dinner. It’s just me, my hoop and my hoop tribe.
The big drawcard at HoopFest this year was Tiana Zoumer – oh yes, the Tiana Zoumer! For a small hoop community tucked away at the bottom of the world, it was quite something to have a hoop dancer and teacher like Tiana with us.
You know when you meet someone you’ve admired from afar and they turn out to be a disappointment? The opposite happened with Tiana. She is not only a beautiful hoopdancer and an inspiring teacher, she’s also great company and [something that doesn’t come across in her online presence], very funny. She did an hilarious strip tease performance to a Flight Of The Conchords song during HoopFest’s Renegade Show!
Tiana’s two workshops were different from anything else at HoopFest in that she didn’t teach “how to do this move, then this move”; rather she taught concepts that made you think about the way you move your hoop. Her Sunday morning workshop was perfect for those who were tired and hung-over after the Saturday night partying. She taught us how to move our hoops through the air like they were fish in the sea, and she also guided us in a body parts dance in which different parts of the body “led” the dance. It was a good warm-up, and also a great way to create awareness in the body. I’ve practised it several times since I’ve come home and I love it.
I also got the opportunity for a private lesson with Tiana. Oh yeah! We worked on some moves I'd been having trouble with; no quick fixes, but plenty for me to work on. Thanks to Tiana I now have an obsession with chest rolls and body stalls...
Other than that – it was just a brilliant weekend all round. Catching up with old hoop buddies and making new ones; delicious food; wonderful workshops and dazzling shows; hooping all day long and collapsing into bed at night. Bring on the next one!
Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Saturday, 22 March 2014

15 minutes.

I've got into the habit of hooping for the first 15 minutes of every day.

I get out of bed, get dressed, make a cup of tea, and go outside [or clear the furniture in the lounge, if it's raining] to hoop.

I've never been much of a morning person. I hate waking up. I struggle to talk coherently before 7am. And physical activity? Forget about it. When I practised yoga regularly I was always in envy of those people who could roll out of bed and straight onto their yoga mat. I tried, but it made me feel like I was going to vomit.

But in this, as in so many other ways, hooping is different.

I may be only just awake when I step outside with my hoop. The sudden burst of fresh air makes me a little more alert. The first birds are singing, the sun hovering on the horizon, the air crisp. I mumble my hoop prayer and begin to move, slowly at first, but as the familiar rhythm settles into my body I wake fully and move with more confidence.

I always dance this first dance of the day without music. I prefer the sound of the birds, the wind, Monty barking at something I can't see.

I wish I could say these 15 minutes guarantee I'm going to have great day, but it's not always the case. Still, I can't think of a better foundation to my day than this. Before all the clamour of my day begins, I take 15 precious minutes for myself to dance, to reconnect with myself and the Divine.

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The truth about hooping.

This month marks my two-year hoop anniversary. It's hard to believe it's been only two years - is that all?! I spent 40 years of my life not hooping but now I can't remember what I did with my time before I discovered the hoop!

Hooping is the first thing I do when I get up in the morning, and I often hoop during my lunch breaks and when I get home from work. I hooped right before my wedding to deal with my nerves. I express all my joys and work out all my frustrations inside my plastic circle.

My attitude to hooping has changed a lot since my first hoop anniversary. Hooping used to be something I wanted to achieve. I used to practice at the gym, wearing gym clothes. Each week I wrote out a practice schedule that I stuck to. I was all about getting fancy new moves under my belt, and I was always watching hoop videos, especially tutorials.

I was passionate about hooping, but, although I acknowledged its deeper aspects, I saw it as merely as form of exercise.

I still want to get better at hooping - I'm always looking to improve. But that's so I can express myself better within the hoop. I still love the physical exercise hooping gives me, but these days the spiritual and psychological aspects interest me more.

I am totally addicted to how good hooping makes me feel, and to the connection it gives me to the Divine.

I wish I could express a little of this to the women I teach. I teach hooping purely on a physical level, mainly because I don't know how to do it any other way. I don't want to be all born-again about it but I think there's no harm in letting people know that playing with a plastic circle can be more profound than giving you hard abdominal muscles - it can actually be good for your mental health, it can help quieten your mind, and give you self-confidence.

Maybe learning to communicate my truth about hooping could be my hoop challenge for the year ahead.

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Thursday, 6 March 2014

In flight.

I love capturing stills from my hoop videos, like this one above.
I have never been a physical or energetic person, usually preferring to sit down with a good book than be physically active. 
And yet, here I am in my forties, learning to fly like this.
What a gift.
Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Chest rollin'

It's okay. I haven't lost my head and replaced it with a hoop. I'm just practising my chest rolls.

A month ago, you would never have seen me do a chest roll. A chest roll was the one move that really scared the crap  out of me - and for good reason.

I used to be really good at chest rolls. Then one evening, just over a year ago, I was demonstrating the move in class - and mucked it up. The hoop smashed into my face [not the first or last time that's happened]. What scared me was that I was using a big hoop and it careered straight into my glasses, ruining them beyond repair.

No more chest rolls for me. I tried to do them again but I couldn't summon the guts to let that hoop go so it could roll across my outstretched arms and chest.

But I decided I would not be held back by one small incident, so I've begun working on chest rolls again.

I'm pleased to report I'm progressing well. I began really small, by rolling the hoop across one arm. Then across part of my chest and one arm. Each week I add a little more of the move in. I can now do the full move, although I need a couple of deep breaths beforehand.

But you just watch me. Come next January, I'll be the chest roll expert!

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Monday, 27 January 2014

Hooping in paradise.

John and I have just come back from a rare and much-anticipated holiday in Auckland. We stayed at my brother's idyllic place in the far west of Auckland, about an hour from the city centre.

Every morning I hooped on the big wooden deck, which was [mostly] drenched in sunshine. I was surrounded by beautiful gardens and native bush, and as I danced I looked out over the Manukau Harbour.

It was pretty much like hooping in paradise.

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

This is my flow.

This is my flow
There are many like it
But this one is mine
It's revolutionary by design
-Tiana Zoumer
It's ironic that I begin this post with a quote from Tiana Zoumer, because this post is about how I discovered I didn't want to be Tiana Zoumer.
Recently, I've taken a few hoop lessons via Skype with the one and only Brecken Rivara. Brecken and Tiana are my two favourite hoopers, so to learn from Brecken is a dream come true. She is a great teacher and a thoroughly likeable person, so if you get the chance to take a lesson with her, do it!
In our first lesson we spent quite a lot of time talking. One of the things we discussed was hoop speed. I told Brecken I had got a shock when I first videoed myself and discovered I am actually a very slow hooper. I do not move fast in my hoop, even though I feel like I do! I shouldn't be surprised by this because I have never been fast at anything, but there you go.

During our discussion Brecken made three points on this topic:

1. a naturally slow hooper incorporates speeds easier than a fast hooper incorporates slowness;
2. a good hooper, whatever her natural speed, will learn how to vary her speed at times to provide texture;
3. if I'm a naturally slow hooper, it's my mission to make that my personal style.

I found myself thinking about the last point during my next session in the hoop. I realised that deep down part of me had wanted to be some kind of hooping composite of Tiana Zoumer and Brecken Rivara! If only I dedicated myself to the hoop enough, I would magically develop Tiana's speed and energy and Brecken's athleticism. Sigh.

Tiana and Brecken aren't much-loved members of the hoop tribe just because they are fast, energetic and athletic. They are admired for their unique flow and their creativity. So do I want to be a copy of Tiana or Brecken, or do I want to be myself? Do I want to force my body to do things it doesn't want to do, or do I want my body to feel gooooood?

The answers are pretty obvious.

I also realised that the times when I walk away from my hoop feeling dissatisfied are those times that I have been comparing myself to someone else [usually Tiana or Brecken] - which is never a path to happiness!

So my hoop mission for 2014 is to begin finding my own flow, my own personal style within the hoop. This totally makes sense to me, and I wish I had thought of it before.

This does not mean that I now believe I have nothing to learn from anyone. I'm still going to take lessons from Brecken, and you bet I'll be learning everything I can from Tiana when she comes to HoopFest in March [squeal!]. But I no longer want to be Brecken or Tiana - I want to be me.

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x