What it Takes to Learn Hooping…or Anything

“You start with the reverse weave,” the instructor was saying. I hadn’t heard of the move, but I told myself, This is good; I came here to my first hooping event to learn. All those years alone in my backyard, only Youtube and DVDs as teachers, there was plenty I needed to soak up in person. Not to mention I’d never had a community of hoopers.

“Does anyone not know the reverse weave?”  I raised my hand, the cold, unfamiliar sensation of being the only ignorant one in class starting to creep through me. (Note to teachers: this is not the ideal way find out where your class is. It makes students who don’t know feel like dodos, rather than making those who do know feel smart. Take out the not in the question—subtle, but powerful.)

The instructor explained, “It’s a forward weave, like this, just going backwards…like this.” That seemed simple enough. It turns out I already knew the forward weave. “Start going forward” she said and I did, the hoop rolling smoothly over my hand on each side of my body. “Then just reverse it. Lead with your pinky instead.” It seemed like the thirty other people in the barn effortlessly swung their hoops in the other direction, making elegant figure-eights. My hand twisted into an awkward angle and my hoop teetered to a stop.

It felt like the gears of my brain were grinding. I couldn’t imagine what my body was supposed to be doing to make the pattern happen in the opposite orientation. Where exactly would my pinky be leading? For some reason, “reverse” seems to be an invalid command in my programming. I think it has partly to do with mild dyslexia, which doesn’t usually affect me until I have to keep some numbers in order, navigate somewhere, or back up a vehicle.

“Wait, which hand does what, facing where?” I asked the person next to me.

She smiled and demonstrated patiently. “It’s a little tricky, at first,” she said.

“You don’t know a reverse weave?” the guy behind me said, barging into the conversation, like it was the most basic move ever invented. “How long have you been hooping? Did you just start?”

“No I didn’t just start,” I said, feeling defensive.

“How long, then? Less than two years.” Maybe he meant I shouldn’t worry that I didn’t know this move yet, assuming I was a newbie. But it sure sounded to me like he meant that anybody who has hooped for any length of time ought to know how to do a reverse weave. He sounded like my inner critic who liked to tell me at low moments that I ought to be better at this by new; if I had any talent, I’d be able to do more tricks and make them look smoother.

“More than two years,” I said, downright hostile.

“It goes like this,” he said, demonstrating.

You are here to learn and let go of your ego, I reminded myself. You can even learn from jerks. I tried to follow along but I felt completely uncoordinated, no part of my body could make a smooth motion. And no new information could be processed in my brain at all. Everything in my mind and body was wrapped so tightly around “I can’t” that, well, I couldn’t.

On our way out of class, I said to my friend Stacy, “I’m not used to being the slow kid in class.” She put her arm around my shoulders and said kindly, “I’m sure you aren’t.” Later in the afternoon I skipped the next workshop to hang out with Stacy and a few other new friends and spin our hoops near the fire pit. I felt my body loosening again, and my mind letting go, just hooping, getting into the flow doing some tricks that came easily. We started showing each other how to do new moves and improve on ones we knew. Moves I’d struggled with before or hadn’t ever tried, starting happening. It wasn’t that I knew I could make them, but I was open to the possibilities.

I nearly cried with relief, not because I popped into my hoop with a kick (thanks, Megan!), but because I was back into a space where I could enjoy myself again and could learn. The difference was palpable, and a good reminder for myself as both teacher and learner: let go of “can’t.”

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