Hiya Hoopy People!
Let me start this off with a “TRUTH MOMENT”…
When I initially started this Hooper of the Month blog thing over a year ago, I figured I’d last a few months and then I’d quit. I am NOT a writer. It’s always been torture for me to sit and write out things like workshop descriptions, bios, or anything else for that matter…. However, I selfishly wanted to do this as a way to talk to some of my favourite hoopers and maybe these hoopers could help inspire other people along the way. Now after 16 editions, I am still amazed at how I am still here doing this! These monthly blogs did not end up feeling as if they were a chore like I'd expected, but rather; a delight. Not one nominee refused my request or made it difficult. Every one of them accepted, shared openly and were even HONOURED to be a part of it.
This year has been even more treasured. Since tasked with the challenge of interviewing only amazing hoopers outside of North America, we’ve had the pleasure of learning from some well-known international hoopers and about some communities we may have never known about …
These hoopers have truly inspired the HECK out of me and this month is no different. While she doesn’t have a gazillion followers, I have definitely noticed her and she is one to watch. Her style is dance-y, carefree, and lovely. She isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and will, at times, leave her hoop behind for a short “prop-less” dance. I realize that dancing without a prop is something a lot of flow artists don't feel comfortable with so I appreciate her willingness to share with the world on Instagram.
Her personal JOURNEY is inspiring. She kindly invites us in to shares her personal struggles and how the flow arts helped her to cope with difficult times.
As an added bonus to her lovely hooping, some of her earlier videos are set with lush backdrops of sunshine and green, making Canadians like me envious! The background is so stunning because she lives in beautiful Manila, Philippines!
Everyone please join me in congratulating April’s Hooper of the Month….
BERNICE MATHAY! Aka: The Hoop Experience
Here is her interview:
What is your name?
On online platforms, I go by the name of my brand. I launched my brand as “The Hoop Experience” with a deep knowing that I was not just selling hula hoops or classes, I was making available a range of extraordinary opportunities for self-transformation through hoop dancing and mindful movement. Hoop dancing has always been a spiritual practice for me - and when we get into matters of the Spirit, there’s always the kind of magic and mystery that can’t be put into words. The Hoop Experience, in that sense, became an invitation - a calling - to a space where all personal truths and possibilities can manifest.
Where do you live and what is the flow/hoop dance community like there?
I live in Metro Manila, Philippines. The Flow Arts community has been around in the Philippines since before I started hooping early in 2013. I joined the community the following year. At that time, there were a lot of poi spinners, a handful of contact jugglers and a growing number of hoopers. Today the community has grown to include props such as fiber flies, contact/dragon staff, buugeng, leviwand and diabolo. It’s amazing how much vibrance there is now in our local flow arts scene. We have so much incredible talent over here - not often seen on social media.
We have a Fire, Flow Arts and Drum Gathering called #SynergySessions that happens every other month in two different locations. There is also the annual Philippine Flow Festival curated by Planet Zips - the poi and performing arts gear brand in the Philippines. Over the years, we’ve had international performers visit and I had been fortunate to meet and learn from innovators in the global flow and circus arts community. Exceptional fire spinners and jugglers too. I met Gail O'Brien for the first time in 2017 on Philippine shores.
Tiana Zoumer dropped in on one of our Synergy Sessions in 2014 where she once performed her piece Revolutionary Design <--- this is a link to her impromptu performance that day. I’ve never listened to High Life by London Grammar in the same way since. From her I learned to do fishies and wedgies. Later that same year, Deanne Love also visited the Philippines... just a few months after I met her in Bali by pure chance. It was such an honor to meet them at such an early stage of my hoop journey.
How long have you been hooping for and how did your journey begin?
I’ve been hooping for 6 years. Early in 2013, I saw someone hooping for the first time in a Surf and Music Festival in San Juan, La Union - a surf town in the Philippines. I watched her as she did lassos and vortexes in the water. She even coiled down her hoop when she got to the beach. I’ve never seen that before! The moment I got home, I looked up hula hoops and a local shop turned up in the search results.
Around that time, I was just starting to heal from an abusive relationship. I was also breaking up with a lot of unhealthy habits and negative influences. I was, for the first time, taking the initiative to navigate my way out of a painful situation with more grace. Ask me then and by grace I would have meant sober. I was overexposed to alcohol in my teenage years and it quickly became my coping mechanism. Coming from a series of toxic relationships that always seemed to involve substance abuse, I eventually picked up on the pattern. I began to realize to what extent I had allowed myself to be mistreated by others, or apologetically by my own self because I didn’t have the tools to heal through trauma, or the self-respect that is so essential in loving one’s self.
When I first started hooping, I was just doing my own thing, in my own little world for one whole year. It was liberating. I never felt more self-regulated and at peace with who I am. It really felt as if I just woke up.
I believe in synchronicities. I genuinely believe that the hoop appeared to me when I was ready. Ready to open myself to love and healing on the deepest level.
Generally, why do you hoop and what benefits have you noticed since you began?
I hoop to free myself. I was never a “dancer”. Dance, and the freedom to make up all the rules in this dance, was the greatest gift that hooping gave me. It’s the freedom to be myself.
It was through hooping that I started to believe in my body’s power to heal itself. After a year of continuously hooping, my period became regular and the physical symptoms of PMS completely subsided. I had an irresponsible past with birth control pills - any experience I had with my period was a nightmare. Together with informed food choices, hooping miraculously corrected my cycle. From then on, I’ve devoted myself to learning more about the wisdom that our menstrual cycle can offer us.
I always feel more resilient after hooping. It has provided me with a safe space where I can release my emotions safely and creatively. It has made me more aware of my mind, my self talk and my ability to shift perspective.
Have you and your hoop travelled to other countries/cities together? What were some of your favourite flow communities to visit? Which places are you (and your hoop) eager to visit in the future?
In 2014, I traveled to Bali as an English Teacher Volunteer. It just so happened that when I was there, so was Deanne Love. I can’t remember how it all happened, but I remember checking for a flow arts community before I left and I ended up connecting with Mishie Hoops of The Hula Hoop Institute, who was based there at the time. Hayley Hoopla was there too! We all met at a soccer field at the central part of Ubud where we hooped and played with the local kids!
I also met a contact juggler while I was in between yoga classes at Yoga Barn. He set up a slack-line in the outdoor area and started performing all these cool tricks on it. Another time was after an evening of Ecstatic Dance - also in Yoga Barn - a hooper called out to me from behind after noticing my hoop and we exchanged contact details to meet again. We met again at an Ecstatic Dance party at a remote villa in Ubud where I encountered a few other flow artists and fire dancers.
It was in Bali that I learned about Conscious Dance modalities like Ecstatic Dance, 5 Rhythms and Contact Improvisation - embodiment practices that I play and explore with in my flow. Conscious Dance and Flow Arts are inseparable. They blend so magically as a community. It was a brief but blissful time.
It is my dream to attend an In-Depth Hawaii Hoop Retreat, and the Hoop N’ Hike retreat in Norway. I’m in love with Scandinavia. Generally, I’d be happy to visit any community outside the Philippines and meet hoopers I’ve only been able to connect with online. That would be so lovely.
What inspires your hoop dance flow?
My emotions, for one. Honesty inspires me. The honesty that people bring to their movements and performances. The feelings that show up, the changes in mood, the energies present in a place or an event. Music, of course. There are all these elements to play with. I am most inspired by what I feel.
What hoop move/technique are you working on at the moment?
This year I have committed myself to movement studies. I’ve attended a number of Embodiment workshops in the past and I am starting to experiment more with the ideas I’ve learned.
I just landed a beautiful hoop space where I can teach and practice. Open spaces are not common in Manila and the security in urban parks, especially in the more upper class areas, tend to be very interfering when we have flow jams. Public parks that are more lenient, on the other hand, are too inaccessible because of traffic. To have a space to create and gather with minimal distraction is rare in Metro Manila, being highly urbanized and populated. This has tested my patience and tenacity several times. I thought of mentioning this as an issue because our environment and the conditions we are exposed to everyday can be a huge deterrent to one’s progress.
I still allot time to learn new moves as a way to increase my neuroplasticity. I am big on this subject. My mental health really collapsed last year and I have chosen to maintain my sanity and well-being independent of medication and traditional therapy. Currently I’ve been doing more leg work such as vertical foot hooping variations. It is helping me sustain my attention and balance. I feel my attention can be very short at times and I believe this has reflected how I avoid challenge. I’ve been dealing with the anxiety of "not-enoughness" But I have also asked myself if I’ve put in the time and effort to create opportunities to feel something else, feel something better. I can surely take responsibility over that.
What’s your “go-to” hoop technique/method/trick/style at the moment?
What I will share as my go-to is more flow-related. My go-to is my breath. I am making it a habit to observe the quality of my breath before I hoop. It is a “trick” I use determine the energy I will be working with during a flow session. This will allow me to be fully present in anything I am learning or attempting to master at the moment.
Who are some of your favourite hoopers/flow artists to follow online and what do you love about them?
Deanne Love / @deannelovexo - I love Deanne for all that she has made possible for the global hooping community.
Jonathan Baxter / @hooppatherbaxter - I love his groove, his balancing techniques and his podcasts. I linked it up!
Tiana Zoumer / @tianazoumer - I love her movement artistry. Her flow has inspired me the most in my early years of hooping.
Katie Emmitt / @katiemmitt - I love the journey she is on now. Her flow was one that I resonated with in my early years of hooping.
Jennifer Dennehy / @jdennehy_dancer - I love her passion and effort for the work that she does. Also, her dance is spellbinding! She has inspired me to take up contemporary dance.
Ana / @the_anamal - I love her fluidity and eclectic style, the shapes she makes with her body when she dances with the hoop.
Mckell Ann / @medusa_mckell - I love her soul and how she mixes up her style. Her musicality and her music!
Kelsey MacP / @kwigglez - I love her creativity, playfulness and positivity.
Taylor Duffrin / @taylorflows - I love her fierce style and dynamic energy, and how she keeps pushing the limits.
Andeli Zumbuhl / @ande.li - I love how she freely experiments with her movements.
Ehrlich Ocampo / @firechill.ph is a good friend of mine from the Philippines who got accepted into Cirque Du Soleil this year. I have watched him excel in poi, leviwand and now in multi-hooping. He was my first movement teacher when I was new to Flow Arts and his journey inspires me to keep moving forward.
These are just some :)
Do you have a favourite hoop maker? What hoop do you use and love?
Hoopologie. I opened my hoop shop in June 2017 - opening a hoop business in the Philippines is another journey on its own. The support Hoopologie has extended to me at this stage is unparalleled. They truly embody their community values.
My favorite hoop to use is either a 32” OD 3/4 HDPE hoop for on & off body flow, or a 29” OD 5/8 polypro hoop for off-body hooping.
What advice or wisdom would you share with someone who is struggling with their practice or feeling in a “rut” at the moment?
I’m glad you asked this question - because it’s a question I always ask! I have engaged with a number of hoopers on their learning process, and what they do to stimulate creativity. There is so much brilliance in this community and everyone has a unique process to share. I encourage anyone who is stuck to find a hooper that inspires them and engage.
Meditate. Align yourself. If there is any resistance, breathe a little deeper, create space and maybe reset your intentions.
Thank you so much to Bernice for taking the time to share with us!
You can follow her on Instagram: @thehoopexperience
Hoops and Hugs!