By: Julius Lasin
As students wielding large plastic hoops file into the dim-lit room in the Student Activities Center, Christian Cann, the treasurer of the Hula Hoop Enthusiasts Club, recalls the long journey he’s taken to become an adept hula hooper.
“I thought it [hula hooping] looked really fun, it was always something I wanted to do, but was always too shy to start off,” Cann recalls. “Then I met Lily [Nack] and Ryan [Tiss], they were my inspirations to try something new.”
Like Cann, many students that join the Hula Hoop Enthusiasts Club–a club at Stony Brook University that allows students to try hula hooping–are searching for a new way to express themselves, or they are intrigued by the novelty and challenge of hula hooping.
“I had never hooped before coming joining the club,” Lily Nack, the club’s president said. “I had some upperclassmen friends that got me into it freshman year and I haven’t looked back since.”
With a club that is centered on an activity that is as uncommon and scarce as hula hooping, many members find it difficult to pick it up at first.
“A lot of people get frustrated at first because they can’t hoop or can only hoop at their waist,” Christian Cann, the club’s treasurer, said. “But once you’re able to get that one thing down, it’s kind of like your whole world brightens.”
However, novice hoopers are not expected to overcome their struggles by themselves, the experienced members are always there to guide and teach.
“We like teaching people how to hoop,” Ahmed Hassan, the club’s secretary, said. “That’s [hooping] the conduit that brings us together, but we welcome any person.”
Although the club does provide the unique medium of hula hooping, it isn’t relegated to only that. Members of the club are also encouraged to do any and every type of free flowing physical activity that their hearts desire.
“It’s a really laid back group,” Hassan said. “Really, you can come here and you don’t even have to hoop, you can do whatever.”
Members such as Nack, Cann and Ryan Tiss are evidence of the club’s willingness to experiment outside of traditional hoops.
“We experiment of all different types of movement,” Nack said. “We also play with ribbons, poi, juggling balls and things of that nature.”
Inessa Royt, a first-year member of the club also echoes a similar sentiment when it comes to broadening her palette of activities.
“It’s not all about hula-hoops either,” Royt said. “I brought in gloves with lights in them and we played with those, so it [the club] is really just a creative space.”
In addition to providing a space that allows students to broaden their creative horizons while also getting a good workout, the group also aims to provide a nurturing family-like atmosphere for students to find respite in.
“I like it to keep things very relaxed, I make sure everyone feels pretty comfortable at all times” Nack said, smiling from ear to ear. “I feel that to get good creativity, you have to feel good, feel safe among friends.”
A lot of the members of the club also use hooping and the club as a way to get away from the stresses of school and work.
“If I’m ever having a bad day or if something’s ever bothering me, then I can just hoop,” Cann said. “I find it really meditative and after a while, it’s something I kind of just get into. I can forget about my homework, I can forget about all my classes and tests that are coming up.”
But for others hooping is not only something they do to get away from the daily rigors of being a college student, it is integral in keeping them positive and optimistic about life.
“I feel very safe inside of my hula hoop,” Nack said. “It keeps things lighthearted and silly because I get so stressed from school, life and trying to be a functioning individual in today’s fast-paced, high stressed society.”
Although the club is based around the idea of trying something as new and unique as hula hooping, Nack and other members want to also build an environment where members don’t have to feel the pressures or burdens of being great at it right away. Instead, they want use hula hooping as a tool to try and help students step out of their comfort zone and have new experiences.
“We’re a very judgment-free zone,” Nack said. “We don’t make you do anything, it’s all voluntary. We’re just happy that you come and you’re willing to try something new.”
However, many students are timid when it comes to trying something so novel and unconventional, which is why the club thrives on building a family-like atmosphere when hooping.
“Hoop with other people,” Cann said. “When you and your friends are having a good time and laughing it’s kind of just infectious.”
And when new members are finally able to get acclimated, the club hopes that the new members can gain confidence to strive in other aspects of life.
“No one can touch you in a hula hoop,” Nack said. “Hula hooping gives me a lot of confidence when I feel bad because it teaches me with hard work and dedication I can do anything I want to.”
But at the end of the day, hula hooping still is a unique form of expression where students are able to experience the art they create.
“Hula Hooping just really helps me take a step back and enjoy the moment for what it is,” Nack said. “It’s not like painting, at the end of the day you have a painting—a product of your work. Hooping is very much in the moment, you have a dance, but you only experience it in that moment.”
The immediacy of hula hooping is also something that members of the club find cathartic and liberating.
“You can express emotions through hooping,” Hassan said. “It’s just an outlet for some people, it adds another layer to being to express yourself.”
Being able to deal and work through emotions is especially important on college campuses because of depression and stress among college students. According to a 2008 study done by the Associated Press and mtvU, 80 percent of college students expressed they feel stress daily and 34 percent of students also admitted to feeling depressed as well.
With that in mind, Nack and the rest of the Hula Hoop Enthusiasts Club aim to uplift their fellow students and comfort them through hooping.
“Hula Hooping can really get you to work out a lot of your feelings,” Nack said.
Along with providing a place to meet people, work feelings and try something new, the club and its members ultimately hope that new members, or people who just want to try hula hooping out, can find comfort in their own skin and be able to see the joy in life.
“Don’t be afraid to look stupid, because who cares,” Cann said, as he was carrying an armful of pastel and rainbow colored hoops. “Don’t be afraid to look silly because life’s more fun when you let go of all of that.”