Summer Journal: Passion for Hoops

Norwich Resident Hopes Her Hobby Becomes Her Occupation Some Day

  • Julie Monroe practices hoop dancing with a flaming hula hoop on the green in Norwich, Vt., on August 12, 2014. Moroe learned hoop dancing a year ago from the Maine Fire Dancing Collective at a festival, and practices nearly every day. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Julie Monroe practices hoop dancing with a flaming hula hoop on the green in Norwich, Vt., on August 12, 2014. Moroe learned hoop dancing a year ago from the Maine Fire Dancing Collective at a festival, and practices nearly every day.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Gavin Klinck, a neighbor and friend of Julie Monroe, lights white-gasoline soaked wicks attached to Julie Monre's hula hoop on the green in Norwich, Vt., on August 12, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Gavin Klinck, a neighbor and friend of Julie Monroe, lights white-gasoline soaked wicks attached to Julie Monre's hula hoop on the green in Norwich, Vt., on August 12, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Julie Monroe of Norwich passes a flaming hula hoop under her leg while hoop dancing on the green in Norwich, Vt., on August 12, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Julie Monroe of Norwich passes a flaming hula hoop under her leg while hoop dancing on the green in Norwich, Vt., on August 12, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Julie Monroe practices hoop dancing with a flaming hula hoop on the green in Norwich, Vt., on August 12, 2014. Moroe learned hoop dancing a year ago from the Maine Fire Dancing Collective at a festival, and practices nearly every day. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Gavin Klinck, a neighbor and friend of Julie Monroe, lights white-gasoline soaked wicks attached to Julie Monre's hula hoop on the green in Norwich, Vt., on August 12, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Julie Monroe of Norwich passes a flaming hula hoop under her leg while hoop dancing on the green in Norwich, Vt., on August 12, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Norwich — Allison Moskow was driving a car load full of children down Main Street this spring, past Dan & Whit’s and toward the town green, when a chorus of exclamations filled the vehicle. They had just pulled even with Julie Monroe, hula hooping on some grass near her apartment building next to the store.

“We pulled over to watch and right away, my 7-year old said ‘Mommy, I want what she has,’ ” Moskow said. “She was practicing with one of her hoops, and it was literally going from a fingertip above her head down to her toes.” Monroe, 23, said that’s a fairly common reaction when townsfolk spot her in motion. She’s been hired to perform at parties, has worked with a local Girl Scout troop and begun booking individual lessons. All this from someone who wasn’t previously athletic and who discovered the pastime by accident.

“I never played sports, so it surprised me that I liked it as much as I do,” said the Woodsville native. “I wasn’t lazy before, but I didn’t do much physical. Now, it’s grown into more and more of an addiction every day.” Monroe had often traveled to music festivals throughout the Northeast, and that’s where she first encountered performers juggling and balancing and dancing with various implements. The hoops in particular called to her, and last May, she acted on a longstanding desire and ordered her first.

“I hadn’t touched a hoop since I was a kid,” she said. “I was good at waist hooping, because that’s about all you’re taught when you’re young. But as an adult, you have better hand-eye coordination, and I really wanted to get into it.” What she wanted to do most of all was spin a hoop while it was on fire. But first things first, so she began practicing every day with a basic, unlit hoop.

“I wasn’t used to having something around my waist, and I was so stiff,” Monroe said. “My arms would be sticking out to counterbalance the weight. I hooped a bit each day during the summer, but it wasn’t until about September that I really got into wanting to learn tricks and find my flow, where you move fluidly and gracefully.” Last June, Monroe returned to a music festival where the Maine Fire Dancing Collective, a group that had helped inspire her desire to hoop, was performing. She approached the participants for tips and was invited to perform with them in front of a crowd. Positive reinforcement from the group and the audience increased her dream of fire hooping, so one night, she and her extinguisher-toting boyfriend stood nervously in a dirt parking lot and lit the four wicks projecting out of a new, $180 hoop she had ordered.

“I was really, really nervous, but once you get going, it’s not so bad,” said Monroe, whose hoop wicks will burn for roughly four minutes. “I did it around my arm, and even just that was really awesome.” Monroe initially practiced hooping in her apartment during the winter, but that was banned after an unfortunate incident involving her boyfriend’s 60-inch television. Once warmer weather arrived, she went back to practicing near her apartment or on the town green. As she’s delved deeper into the activity, her focus on fiery hoops has shifted to doing more complex tricks with unlit ones.

Late last month, Monroe practiced by the green’s bandstand. The hoop whipped around one arm, then two arms, her neck, her torso. She stood on one leg, reminiscent of a figure skater, while rotating the hoop around her other leg. Often she danced, moving gracefully and with rhythm to a beat only she could hear. What was most fascinating to bystanders was that Monroe hardly seemed to put any effort into keeping the hoop in motion.

“She’s a conceptual art piece,” said Moskow, who has hired Monroe to perform for an hour at a Memorial Day party and for two hours at a graduation party, both at her Norwich home. “She’s a performer and a creator who’s bringing back an old toy. How cool is it that a hoop has no buttons or plug-ins?” Said Monroe: “Some days I just let go, and I’m all over the lawn. I’ll practice anywhere from half an hour to three hours. I’ve gained a lot of upper body strength and flexibility from hooping, especially in my core and arms.” As part of an Internet group for hula hoop enthusiasts, Monroe has discovered kindred spirits all over the world and has met up with several at festivals. One such friend has lost 40 pounds in the last year with the aid of hooping, and Monroe picks up new tricks and insights through the group. She’s added an LED hoop that, when twirled properly, uses a tracer affect to create patterns and ghostly images in the dark.

“When I started, someone would walk by, and I’d think I was looking silly,” she said. “But hooping has given me confidence. Once I get into my flow state, I don’t notice much around me.” One of Monroe’s coworkers at Dan & Whit’s, where she’s been an employee for more than two years, convinced her to volunteer with a local Girl Scout troop comprised of 14 girls. Dodi Hill, who works in the store’s meat department, knew right away that her young charges would be captivated and intrigued.

“I saw the passion and love and caring that Julie had, and I knew it would tie in with the girls,” Hill said. “We made and decorated hoops and then learned to use them. There were a couple of girls who didn’t have any confidence at all when we started with them, and by the time we were done, Julie had them fully involved and doing well.

“The girls bonded so well with her, and they come into the store and ask for her. We’ll definitely have her back in the fall.” Monroe makes custom hoops out of recycled sap lines and can deliver various colors, diameters and thicknesses. She offers free repairs and hoop lessons at the rate of $15 per hour and can be found on Facebook under “Jeweled Hoops”.

“My dream, and some people might think it’s silly, is to teach classes and open up my own hoop shop as my main source of income,” Monroe said. “But if not, hooping will always be my hobby and own form of meditation.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.