Hula hooping has grown in popularity, especially at music festivals — and Cal Poly is no exception. The Merry Hoopsters hoop on Dexter Lawn every Thursday morning. | Jason Hung/Mustang News

Annie Vainshtein

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The coral house perches on a street corner, an oasis amid lifeless infrastructure and college-town-induced exhaustion. The Merry Hoopsters founders’ house emanates circularity, inside and out. Its living room alone contains dozens of hoops, all delicately designed by the members themselves with the help of DIY tape design and YouTube videos. Original, collaborative art covers every inch of white space.

The house’s inhabitants were roommates first — founding the club came second. Ethnic studies junior Zoe Raven, graphic communication junior Amanda Peterson, sociology junior Emily Ardeljan and business administration junior Alexandra Meniktas all met in the residence halls their freshman year. New to Cal Poly, they spent most of their days in parks outside, recreationally hula hooping and slack lining with friends from their tower.

Sophomore year, they all moved in together off campus.

Hooping is a widespread phenomenon, one that is especially common at music festivals. Raven had prior experience hooping and taught tricks to her roommates. After a while, the actions paved way for The Merry Hoopsters’ formation.

You’ve likely seen them on Dexter Lawn, head-to-toe in variations of tie-dye, arms outstretched and hoops in hand. Cal Poly’s first hooping club, the Hoopsters know their practice raises quite a few brows.

They each have their own reasons for why they choose hooping.

For Meniktas, it’s an avenue to creative expression.

“Everyone has their own flow,” she said. “It’s completely different for each person based on how they move with the hoop — we like to talk about how our hoop is like our boyfriend, you can just go dance with them and it’s cute and fun.”

“Flow” isn’t foreign to the rest of the household. In fact, the concept drives and permeates how they live their lives. For The Merry Hoopsters, flow isn’t something readily defined, and an attempt at such would dilute its meaning. But in a certain sense, it means to feel in-sync, centered in your movement and thought.

Raven said hooping has made her more aware of her body.

“I look at it as more of a practice, like how people talk about yoga,” she said.

For the girls, hooping is intimately gratifying — a natural form of empowerment. Yet, to their dismay, it’s been difficult getting people to participate.

“People are intimated by it, but you don’t know until you try,” Peterson said. “People throw it around their waist once and it falls, and they say something negative, like, ‘I suck.’”

And those sentiments are all to familiar to The Merry Hoopsters, because at one point they were all beginners.

“I mean it — I couldn’t hoop,” Meniktas said. “In P.E., I would be at three spins and be done. I could not do it. I couldn’t.”

To her surprise and to that of many others who begrudgingly attempt to hoop, the learning curve is fast. For Meniktas, she only had to get two tricks down before feeling comfortable hooping in public.

And while it may appear the Hoopsters are solely centered in their individual “flows,” the club is driven by collaboration.

“Everyone is totally open to sharing new things,” Meniktas said. “Once you acquire your bag of tricks, you progress quickly because you’re constantly picking up things from other people.”

For Peterson, hooping hasn’t just brought her closer to her roommates — it’s ignited an introspection that grounds her, one that governs her every movement. She reflected on her freshman year and realized there were certain “social scripts” she felt she was following, especially at social events.

Meniktas felt the same way. She remembered defeating thoughts of hers that invaded her sense of self, such as, “Should I turn to the side so I’m more slimming?” or, “I should flirt with him while I hold a beer because that’s cooler than not.”

The fear was overpowering, until she found a new sense of freedom through hooping.

“I realized that whatever it is that you thought you had to do to be noticed, or to be accepted, you don’t have to,” Meniktas said.

For The Merry Hoopsters, the nature of hooping opposes competition, and the act is the farthest thing from a show. But the campus perception seems to think otherwise.

“People think you have to be a girl,” Meniktas said. “And that you have to be this person who eats out of jars and is into spirituality and has tapestries all over, and okay — maybe some of those interests coincide just due to the nature of your personality, but there are plenty of people who are mechanical engineers, or nutrition, etc. It’s completely varied based on interests. It’s just for anyone who likes to self-express and unwind.”

While The Merry Hoopsters understand other students’ distant fascination with the club, they often feel as if their attempts at self-expression are cheapened by Snapchatting spectators. They’re trying to change that.

Last year’s focus was starting the club, but this year has been an active attempt to encourage people to try it out. Just last week, The Merry Hoopsters had a musical event on Dexter with local band The Right Mind. They enjoyed the event but wished more people had the courage to try.

“People always watch us and don’t want to try because they think they won’t be good enough, or it’s something you do to show off, and that there’s no point in doing it because they can’t show off yet,” Raven said.

She iterated that hooping isn’t about how good she is. Rather, whenever she feels her mind taking over, the activity reminds her of the importance of being fully embodied and inhabiting her own space.

And that’s a notion all Merry Hoopsters members live by.

“Hooping allows a new level of having to be aware of your space, inside and outside of the hoop,” Raven said. “’Flow’ is synonymous with surrender, and it’s a different state of consciousness, being totally in the moment. Most of the time, we’re so in our minds.”

Overthinking, analyzing, comparing — these faculties are natural in moderation, but too much of them imposes damaging consequences on one’s sense of self, Meniktas said.

“It’s just about being genuine,” she said. “And because I tried hooping and really saw myself progress, I’m more willing to put myself out there and be weird and make mistakes, and look like an idiot, because who cares? If I’m having fun, whatever. I’ve noticed my self-talk is less negative.”

Group members said the idea of living in the moment is less about abandoning plans and structure and more about accepting mistakes and uncertainty.

“For me, it’s about allowing things to unfold and moving with them,” Peterson said. “Recognize that there are things that make you happy and things that bring you down, but not trying to cage or define something to make it permanent.”

The Merry Hoopsters are a rare contradiction: natural-born leaders with no desire for control. Because for them, intangible processes like “flow” are just as real as gathering up the courage to walk across the lawn on a sunny day, pick up a hoop and maybe risk looking silly.

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