Marsha Amer shut her eyes and looked inside. She kneeled on the floor of Bloomington’s StoneBelt Gym and arched her back. A hula-hoop laying halo-like around her. She looked inside and found herself.
Amer is a dedicated member of the Bloomington Hudsucker Posse.
On the outside, the Bloomington Hudsuckers spin hula hoops, but on the inside, they concentrate on inner peace. Some Hudsuckers have lost weight, others gained enlightenment, but all have gained a sense of community. Most Indiana residents find these hippie-dippy hula-hoopers out of the loop, but the flow of this simple circle helps members clear their mind and focus on peace.
Yet, is that sacred?
“I’m not religious, but I’m highly spiritual,” Hudsucker’s co-founder Paula Chambers said.
Chambers follows the Hoop Path — a spiritual organization the census terms a religious “other.” According to the 2010 census, Chambers is among over two million Indiana residents who define “other” as their spiritual preference.
Enlightenment began for the Hudsuckers in the fall of 2007.
Chambers saw a hooping performance at the Bloomington Lotus World Music and Arts Festival. The exotic hoopers captivated her. She began working on a hooping team and, three months later, the Hudsuckers were born.
Named after the Joel and Ethan Coen brothers’ film “The Hudsucker Proxy,” the goal of this group was to perform at local festivals. The Hudsuckers would sync in and out of routines and alternate between individual hooping and “shared light of mind.”
Now, three years later, more than 200 Indiana hoopers are registered as members of the Bloomington Hudsucker Posse.
Paula finds that the ebb and flow of the hula-hoop helps her reach a sense of clarity — a state of “authentic movement.”When Chambers hoops, she concentrates on the sway between her body and circle. Her insecurity and ego disappear into white light, and music guides her. All that’s left for Chambers is a state of divine nothingness and glowing hula-hoop.
“Rebel, rebel you’ve torn your dress / Rebel, rebel your face is a mess.”
It’s 6 p.m. and David Bowie just joined Wednesday’s Hudsucker practice. Dressed in red shorts, gray tights and a black Hudsucker tank top, Chambers is the unofficial leader of this motley crew. She leans her metallic hula-hoops against the wall and saves the black one for herself — it matches her outfit best.
The music turns on and Chambers rises up.
She is in the center of the gym, the middle of her hoop, but mentally, Chambers is anywhere else. With her hands up, she looks like she’s grasping for salvation.
“Do you guys want to sync together? I want to sync together!” Chambers says. “Hey man, Smith, do you want to lead?”
Jeanne Smith is at the fringe of this twirling group, but, at Chamber’s suggestion, she jumps to the front. She pushes her platinum hair back and immediately starts spinning a black-and-white hula-hoop around her thumb.
The iPod bumps to an Eastern-sounding dance mix.
Smith starts to twirl the hoop faster and faster, but members can’t keep up. The Hudsuckers lose their groove, and mismatched hoops fall to the ground like hats at graduation. Everyone laughs.
“Last Wednesday, Paula got up there and everything she did was shoulders,” Smith said. “I was like, ‘I can’t do that.’ So, after I got up there, I started doing some of my stuff. Everyone was like, ‘You’re using your thumb?’ and I never even thought about it.”
Thumb-twirling is Smith’s signature move, but leading the group is new for her. Smith is a quiet transsexual who prefers to shy behind her hula-hoop and let the hoop’s spin do the talking for her.
Hooping, for Smith, started as a way to bulk up her burlesque routine. She wanted to incorporate a hoop into her tease, and the Hudsuckers have helped her express herself.
“She always was the type who thought love was a chore / No matter what she had, she wanted more.”
The song switches to lyrics by Girlyman, and Smith steps from her position as leader.
Twenty years ago, Smith was a confused Christian. A small, fundamentalist church prayed for her identity, and she lost sleep wondering who she was. Then, one night, she had a dream.
“I’m going to see the answer,” she thought. “I’m going to know truth.”
The next day she woke and realized that, for her, religion wasn’t explainable. Smith would always be spiritual, she knew, but finally she believed it wasn’t a question of what was wrong with her so much as it was a problem with her church.
Smith stopped looking for religion.
The Hudsuckers have helped continue her quest for identity.
Hooping keeps Smith dreaming; when she spins, she daydreams of politics, life and the things she’s lost and found. The loose ends of her life are spun into one thread, and she circles her hula-hoop back and forth.
Whoever Smith is, that divine circle captures it.
“And I’m running on the streets of life / And I’m never going to get old.”
David Bowie sings again.
Amer dances slowly in the corner.
Amer is a hooper whose black-and-white top perfectly complements her white hula-hoop.
In high school, Amer sang in her church choir, but she always felt hemmed in. Now, Amer finds community in the Hudsucker Posse.
She hasn’t found God through hooping, but she has found her self. She bridged the line between body, spirit and metallic hoop and, for Amer, this silent connection has kept her returning to StoneBelt Gym every week.
“You can’t attach a hula hoop or dancing to a religion — dancing is just something that kind of ‘is’: you dance to music. When I’m hula hooping, I’m doing a form of dance — I feel like I’m getting into myself. It’s like moving meditation.”
David Bowie’s voice fades, and Amer’s gaze goes beyond StoneBelt’s ceiling.
After a few minutes, she cuts her stare and walks across the room. She picks up her hoop and starts circling. Searching, again and again.
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