Hoop dreams

Recently, in an attempt to start acquiring some new skills, I signed up for a two-day aerial hoop workshop. I spent one weekend leaping in and around a swinging metal hoop suspended seven feet above the ground; mastery is not imminent or even likely, but I cannot wait to get up there again.

Is it dance? It is a circus art? It is, I suppose, a little bit of both. Lara Saluja led the workshop, a Mumbai-based an elfin sprite whose compact proportions belie the insane strength she possesses. Watching her leap effortlessly up into the hoop before segueing into graceful dancer-like moves had me itching to get up there, so I could also effortlessly float between graceful dancer-like poses. Once actually up there though I realized HAHAHA, WTF, and also, no. It is frickin’ hard to get up there, and harder still to shimmy around while you’re up there. Turns out that those graceful transitions are only graceful when you’ve got a core of either steel, titanium, or other similarly strong material. When your core is more halfhearted than hard-ass, those transitions look a little like hanging on for dear life.

I later learned that Lara is, in fact, a dancer, so my comparative lack of grace bothered me a little less. Don’t go in expecting to be pro in your first session (much like, er, everything else in the world), but go with an open mind and a general sense of anticipation, because it is fucking fun. What did we do? After a vigorous round of stretching, we started with basic exercises to get familiar with the hoop, and getting into it. Sounds (and looked, dammit Lara) easy, so I headed hoop-ways full of misplaced confidence, quickly knocked out of me when my legs missed the hoop by at least a couple of feet. Actually getting up there is a movement that takes some time to get used to, but if you get it just once, it all starts to make sense. Our first set of exercises involving hanging leg lifts and pull-ups to get the hang of stabilizing yourself on the hoop, at which point my competence started to re-emerge. I might not be Lara-strong, but I am reasonably strong. We progressed into upside-down suspensions, and one cool little Tinkerbell-in-the-hoop dance-y transition (look, you had to be there), none of which I mastered, but all of which was insanely fun to attempt, and even more insanely gratifying once achieved.

It helps to remember that it is a practice. It’ll take time, and perseverance, and a little warning: it’s not just your arms and sides that will hurt. A bit like lifting weights at the gym, aerial hoop is hard on your hands, so expect chafing, tenderness, blistering… the whole shebang. “Battle wounds” Lara intoned wisely, and I’d play those words back to myself over and over again on day #2, when my palms were red raw and reluctant to do anything, much less wrap themselves around the offending hoop again.

Aerial hoop is a powerful and pretty awe-inspiring practice, as are aerial silks, and all the other aerial arts. All at once playful and meditative, requiring strength, grace, and presence in equal measure, at the end of the weekend I certainly felt stronger and more capable, but I also left with the sense of freedom and liberation that only suspending yourself in the air will give you. There’s a delightful sense of play here that you won’t get in your HIIT classes, or in most streams of yoga, or pilates, while also touching on themes of trust, teamwork, and creative thinking.

If you’re in Mumbai, find Lara at Tangerine Arts studio in Bandra West, and The Space in Juhu, where she regularly leads classes.

In Delhi, Dasha Fogel runs aerial silk classes at Delhi Rock. They’re usually booked up, thanks to a devoted (and regular) crew of aspiring aerial artists, but ask to be put on the mailing list to be informed when spots open up.

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