Photo by Jim Fitzgerald

Greyscale – A Flow Arts Experience

I started my flow arts journey in 2011 at social media’s apex, a pivotal point in human history. We finally had the ability to create, share and perceive each other in a way we hadn’t before.

Prior to this technological boom, I spent my days existing in a predominantly white state, where even the liberal city still had some very obvious unresolved issues pertaining to colorism and bias, so as you could imagine representation, feeling safe and accepted was not something I really ever experienced. This is how it goes for most to all underrepresented communities. This is not to say I don’t love my home town. All the relationships I made and still cherish today because it played an important part in making me, me.

Photo by Jim Fitzgerald

Photo by Jim Fitzgerald

Born and raised in the college town Madison, WI early into my high school career, a friend had been in a critical car accident. Mutual friends and family all came to show support while he was in the hospital, hanging on by life support. It was there I made friends with a group of folks who are the reason I participate in flow arts today. I attended some of my very first EDM shows with these folks and they habitually brought props wherever they went, which I quickly caught on to. Shortly after getting my very own hula hoop we attended a small local event called Wobble. I was shown by all three of them how to do a vortex and a few other newbie moves. Although they were beginner moves, I had never felt more badass. This is when I started to focus on the roller coaster of emotion from the grief of losing a friend to the anxiety from living as a mixed child in a world that sees everything in black and white. Which at the time became overpowered by the joy of making new friends while simultaneously diving head first into a new skill that became deeply gratifying. With every second I invested life got a little better, I literally ate, worked and slept hula hooping. 

At the beginning, hooping was a tool I used to temporarily tap into bliss while tapping out of reality. Something I hadn’t really felt in life before. Pushing myself to practice, drill, create and share content to achieve the daily serotonin boost I needed to make it to the next day. While this sounds harsh and tedious, I loved it! I was never the sporty type, the smart type, honestly I was never really any type. Moving through life feeling like an underachieving misfit in almost all aspects. Until I found flow arts, I had finally found my place, my thing, who I am. 

Photo by Leilani Ruffhouse

Photo by Leilani Ruffhouse

I recall after a few years of steady recording and uploading on YouTube, then the platform Facebook started to ride it’s wave. I started to try to interact with this newfound flow world we didn’t know existed until mass amounts of like minded folks started making groups on Facebook. If you’ve been hooping for a while you’ve probably heard one of the largest Hoop Groups of its time ‘The Unity Of Hula Hoopers’. I hopped on the bandwagon posting in these groups and on Instagram pretty perpetually. I was young, coming into self acceptance, coming into loving my blackness after having hated myself for so long for something I could never change. Not because I hated black people, but because of how obvious it is that America hates black people. It is apparently clear that black Americans were not by social definition, a standard of beauty. But instead that we are criminals, uneducated and undeserving. After years of microaggressions and back handed comments like “you talk white” or “your the whitest black girl I know” I became unapologetically black. For those who are friends with me on Facebook, I post A LOT of black magic, black excellence, black beauty and black talent because I didn’t and still today do not see it enough. Mind you I am always here to support my non-AA brown brothers and sisters/indigenous/queer/lqbtqa/disabled folks and I want to see us all win it. I want representation for everyone but after taking a hard look at what the online flow/hoop community was putting out into the world I spoke up. I stated that black hoopers are under-represented and often less “liked” or promoted, less likely to be chosen for sponsorship or leadership positions etc. 

 WOW, let me tell you, I was met with a lot of white fragility, excuses and hurt. In a community that thrives off of gassing up pretty, white, thin women and undoubtedly leaving anyone not in those categories in the dust, it seemed they just didn’t want to hear it. Furthermore they expressed how racist I was to shed light onto this issue.

One guy posed this question

“What if the black hoopers just aren’t as good?”

I was devastated. For someone to insinuate that within the POC folk who were active in the community at that time and to this day, that none of us must be as good as our white counterparts which is why we don’t get shown love. It’s almost worse that he felt comfortable enough to say that on a public forum about hula hooping. 

While on a rudimentary level, I am eternally grateful for flow and all the folks I’ve met through the art form, we as a community still have a long way to go. Almost 9 years ago I spoke on how little you see POC, moreover, WOC in flow related festivals, troupes, sponsorships, showcases or production. I believe that it is relevant to this day. 

Hooping went from moments of bliss to another harsh reality to one I had to learn to navigate. No doubt flow arts saved my life. Helped me find strength, peace and joy. But it has also brought a lot of self doubt, let down, and sadness.

I hope hearing my personal experience within the flow community sheds light on how you choose to support those around you. That what we as POC’s tend to deal with everyday is an invisible battle that never rests. Take a moment to remind yourself lovingly and softly that it is extremely important for the well being of those around you to unlearn these biases. Not just in February but everyday. We have to do the work consistently. Promote your POC flowmies, recommend them for gigs , GAS THEM UP. 

We have to start making line-ups more diverse, finding handicap accessible venues , providing affordable entry fees and practice spaces. Look at your community, look and find what is missing, then share, advocate or provide what you see is lacking. Representation is important, but the feeling of belonging and being seen is priceless, it is far more valuable than anyone could ever imagine.

Comments 2

  1. You are so right, about so many things. Know more about you has deepened my affection and respect for you! Racism exists and is propagated insidiously. My grandson, is told every day to wear sunscreen so he won’t turn dark, making being darker sound bad. So, grandson gets stressed at school and takes it out on the only black child in his preschool class. Dad is shocked by this. I am shocked that there is only one black child in his class, but not that he took the racism he was taught at home, (in all fairness his fathers teaching was the result of prejudice he grew up with,) and acted it out at school .
    Thank you for sharing your truth.

  2. This how I feel about poi. I’m obviously a lesbian and black. Thank you for saying this. I feel this one every level!

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