How Hula-hooping Made Me a Better Music Teacher

So I have this hobby that some people, amazingly, still do not know about. I hoop dance. That’s non-hooper speech for hula-hooping (a term that no self-respecting hooper actually uses, incidentally).  It’s super fun, creative, and burns 400-600 calories an hour!

Look at me go!

A wannabe-dancer’s dream, really. I’m ridiculously proud of this skill, though the rewards of having this skill are usually limited to frolics in the park and, less often, youtube creepers contacting me via google plus (okay, that only happened once). It all started one day when my friend Jenny, who lived nearby and with whom I shared a daily commute to a summer choir, showed me her mad hooping skillz and the rest is history.

I’ll share a secret: I learned how to do this in about 90 days. I went from legit not being able to even keep the hoop on my hips for more than 10 rotations to finding flow, a term hoopers use to describe the seamless, sequential movement of one “trick” to another (take that, Mirriam-webster).

When I was learning how to do this, I was still working on the whole guilt-eliminiation-over-non-career-activities skill, and felt like I had to justify the time I spent hooping by considering it an exercise in professional development. I’m a teacher, so I’m always looking for the connection factor. As in, how does this (activity, skill, article, movie) actually affect what I do as a music teacher and performer? How can I use my non-musical stuff in my musical stuff? I didn’t know I’d be in for a mind-blowing lesson in self-discovery (insert self-discovery joke here).

Here’s what I learned…

Practice BETTER!
We all have probably been told that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. Practice makes perfect. The reality: you can practice the wrong something for 10,000 hours, and all you have to show for it is a lot of wasted time and poorly-executed scales (or, in my case, uh-back-hand-lifts). Yes, I wanted to be the next cirque-du-soliel-recruit capable of the most riveting, complex combos…but I also wanted to show my students how better practice improves your (hooping, arpeggio, underwater basket weaving) abilities. I set a goal of learning one trick a day, however long that might take (usually it was an hour or two…hooping has a fast learning curve). I’d scope out videos, research tutorials, record myself failing, stop for a glass of wine, then do it all again. I went through a lot of wine.

Interestingly, I never slammed the hoop down in frustration, though I did chase it down the street a lot…until you you get past the actual flailing around stage, the hoop tends to get away from you. But I never felt intensely aggravated ag, per se. I just knew that if I wasn’t getting something, then I was going about it the wrong way or it just wasn’t time to learn that particular skill. Some days I did not add to my trick-etoire at all. Other days I learned two or three new things. Either way, I always felt like I was moving forward and that no amount of time was wasted doing the wrong thing. I think over time, your intuition for what is “wrong” vs. what’s “right” gets to the point where you know what you should be doing, and in what order. But then again, that might be the Indian food I had for lunch talking talk.

Goals: SET THEM. Then work on them.
I made a big to-do about being able to hoop with Jenny, my hoop-mentor, by the end of the summer…withOUT looking like a total newb. After a brief, intense, yet successful period of time building my hoop basics, I felt ready to start stringing stuff together, dance-style. I looked PRET.TY ridiculous at first. I’d rank it in the list of Top Times I’ve Ever Willingly Looked Like A Kindergartener (although, who am I kidding? That list is longer than 10…). It came down to me not wanting to fail Jenny, or my students, or myself. Goals all have the same thing in common – music, hooping, whatever. You chart your course to an end destination…and then go there. How many people can say do this on a regular basis? How many teachers can say they regularly practice the art of goal-achieving? Most, I assume, are not without this skill, since we all know KNOWLEDGE IS POWER and a learning is a life-long process. Yay for buzzwords!

Robin 1
freedom! movement! voluntary stupidity!

Still, though, anytime I start to slip into a “down and out” funk…professionally, personally, creatively, hoop…edly… I try to recall the last time I actually set a goal and met it. Direct correlation, much? I go in and out of hooping phases, and usually find I’m motivated to continue when I have a new challenge to conquer. Otherwise I do the same old moves over and over again, and as great as a simple back-hand lift is, doing about 60 in a row gets lame, fast. Case in point: my next hooping goal is to re-learn everything in the opposite direction, which is AWKWARD-balls. It’s like writing in your non-dominant hand…and pretty funny to watch.

…but also, and most importantly: Love the Process, yo.
It was really cool applying the entire practicing schemata to something non-musical, if not to reach a goal, then to reaffirm the fact that all those years I spent figuring out breath support and vowel formation were, in fact, not entirely off-base. The Process can be intensely personal, in fact. Sometimes we teachers become so involved in our own crap that we forget that it is our job, our duty to teach, love, and enjoy the process, not to mention create our own wherever possible. A lot of my private students profess that they are not in lessons to become a music teacher or performer, and I’m okay with that. The best I can do, then, is to inspire them to use their skills to contribute to society (Go! GO be a circus star!) I know lots of instructors that would rather invest their time training the next Don Giovanni, but there’s something to be said in creating the path. To my personal hoop-ventures, loving the process meant documenting my progress with videos, in all their grainy glory, and sharing them with others (despite that fact that in most, I look like I’ve been run over by a truck). It meant having patience for myself and requesting patience from others. Namely, my cat, whose limbs I’m surprised are still intact after my indoor work. Loving the process also means celebrating successes, however small. It took me two hours to re-learn how to keep the hoop on my hips, and even longer to learn how to get my hands in and out of the hoop without destroying everything in a 4-foot radius. I may have broken a lamp or four. Anyway, every time I feel I’ve “graduated” or met a goal, I make myself a new hoop to add to my collection. Fun times.

I cleaned off my piano for this, guys...
I cleaned off my piano for this, guys…

When has new-skill-acquisition played a role in your own music-making or teaching? What did you learn?


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