Claiming My Name

When I was born, my mother gave me a common name.  She did this intentionally, as she had grown up with an unusual name and it garnered her more attention than she’d wanted.  My mother has always strived to blend into the background, to not call attention to herself when in public, to not stand out.  She gifted me with a name that she hoped would provide such a life for me: Jessica. The second most popular name for girls born in 1984 (second only to “Jennifer”, the name people most often mistakenly call me when they forget and just remember the “J”).

Unfortunately, my mother had given birth to a little girl who feared blending in, who desired attention, who wanted to stand out and be noticed.  She gave birth to a little girl who loved being a freak, a weirdo.  Of all the unique snowflakes out there, I wanted to be the most interesting, the one that everyone stopped and stared at.

Things were fine until I started high school.  In elementary school, I’d been the only Jessica in my class.  But in high school, there were at least seven other Jessicas in my grade.  I shared most of my classes with at least one of them, if not more.  And I started to learn to wait.  If a teacher asked a question, I would raise my hand.  But if they called on “Jessica”, I waited.  It might not be me.  It might be one of the other Jessicas.  I would wait.  They might not mean me.

As an adult, I’ve worked in several different places, or joined different groups.  I grew accustomed to hearing the following at job interviews, and on my first day at work: “Uh oh, we already have a Jessica.  We’ll have to call you something else.”  At which point, they would come up with my new “work name” so that they could easily identify me from the Jessica that had already established her dominance just by being there and having the same name.  I was a second-rate Jessica.  They already had one of me, and now I was extraneous.

It’s funny, I never realized the toll that had taken on my life until the last day of Hoop Path Retreat.  In Hoop Path, we start each session with blindfolded movement.  This particular day, Baxter had opened the space by reminding us that we are not our jobs, we are not our clothes, we are not our children, we are not our bodies, we are not our emotions, etc.  But under that blindfold, I made one more connection.

We are not our names.

I realized that all of that learned behavior…feeling like no one really wanted to talk to me, feeling extraneous, feeling like anyone acknowledging me probably meant to acknowledge someone else…I realized it had worked its way into my subconscious and had manifested as my reality.  You must not mean me.  I’m in the way.  I’m unnecessary.  If any one of us were dead weight, could be easily abandoned, it would be me.  I let myself land in second place, despite a longing to be in first.  I let myself take second place in communities, in relationships, in work environments.

I made those connections and they hit such a powerful nerve that I sobbed heavily under my blindfold for an entire song.

Last year after Hoop Path, I started creating my own Maidan* story.  I knew how old my Maidan was, how she felt, what she wanted, but I didn’t know her name.  I figured when the right name came to me, I would know it.

Under that blindfold, making those connections, I knew exactly what her name is.

Her name is Jess.

I am not my name, but I still love my name, and I have the right to own it.  I have the right to relish hearing it called by others.  I have the right to stand out.  I have the right to be unique.

Over the years, I’ve taken on nicknames from time to time, usually given to me by others.  Nicknames stick to me very well, and I embrace them, usually because I embrace the people who gave them to me.  Even my own mother hasn’t actually called me “Jessica” since I was four.  In recent years, I’ve joined the burner community, a group of people fond of renaming themselves to better fit the self the identity they’ve developed for themselves.  I have more friends that go by nicknames than their real names, to the point that I don’t even know some of their real names.

I do not need a “burner name” because Jess IS my burner name.  I am Jess.  That is the me that I identify with.

The next time someone dares to tell me, “Oh no, we already have a Jessica,” I will say, “The hell you do.  Bitch, you ain’t seen a Jess like me.  I guarantee you I’m the only one you have.  And that’s what you’ll call me.”

Because I deserve it.

*In Hoop Path “mythos”, the Maidan are an order of holy women who used hoops and hoop dance to connect with and understand the world around them.


You’re Allowed To Change

This weekend was Hoop Path Dallas, a hooping workshop with Johnathan Baxter, my favorite hoop instructor, right in my neck of the woods. This is a dream that I’ve been pushing toward for a year now, and it was worth each second of effort.

Photo courtesy of Sassy Hoops

In every single class or workshops of Baxter’s I take, I have what I call a Moment (with a capital “M”). A Moment is when something Bax says or some concept he presents to us moves me so deeply that it pulls up an emotional release in the form of tears. I have Moments even when I go into his workshops thinking I feel great and I’ve heard it all before and I’m just here for a refresher course to rejuvenate my spirit. I always end up powerfully resonating with something. Sometimes it’s at the end after two hours of intense hooping, sometimes it’s in the middle of a blindfolded exercise, sometimes it’s just when Baxter is talking about life.

This time, it happened on day one, right at the beginning in opening circle. I was happy and smiling and looking around at this group of people here to take the workshop, more than half of whom I consider dear friends, sneaking surreptitious glances at their faces as they hear Baxter speak for the first time (and there is nothing like hearing Baxter speak for the first time). I felt in it and outside of it simultaneously. Then Bax asked who among us had lost friends since we started hooping. I raised my hand and a few other people did, too. And Bax proceeded to talk about how he used to be a waiter, and he used to be cynical, and he had these friends who had known him for a decade or more that came to visit after he found hooping and dropped some of the cynicism. Those friends were wanting to hang out with Mean Baxter, the one with whom they could sit around and make fun of people.

And that’s where I had my Moment. I had to drop my head and let a quick rivulet of tears come out. And it’s not like I hadn’t heard Baxter tell this story before. He told it two years ago, at the very first Hoop Path Retreat I attended.

That’s me at Hoop Path Retreat 3, hearing Baxter speak for the first time.
Photo by Serena Scaglione

I think this particular story triggered my Moment yesterday because I’ve recently been dealing with the concept that I am a malleable creature, that no part of me is guaranteed to be truth forever, and that it is not a self-betrayal to change my mind about something. Especially ideas that I’ve internalized so much that I feel they define me. And here’s Baxter, talking about how he changed something that he and his friends felt defined him for years.

Everybody has stuff like this. Things you feel so deeply that you know you’ll always feel that way. And then when the time comes and that knowledge is challenged, it’s scary. For me, these intense bits of “knowledge” have ranged from something as seemingly trivial as “I’m never cutting my hair”, to a more emotionally burdensome “I’ll be with him forever“.

It’s anything we internalize so deeply that it becomes a part of us. These things can be tremendously difficult to let go of. And we can go years firmly believing that we’ll never want to let go of them.

But then something might happen. Something that starts to pull back the curtain of your “identity”, that makes you question how you really feel, what you really believe. And then you’re flung into this huge, swirling vat of confusion. Why do I feel this way, when I’ve always been the sort of person who doesn’t feel that way? It can seem as though you’re betraying something core. You worry about what your friends and family will think, these people who have known you for years as the person who does “X”. What would they say if they saw you now denouncing “X”?

Remember, it can be anything. I swore all through high school that N’Sync sucked and I would never enjoy anything that any of the members of that band would ever be involved in. And then Justin Timberlake went and put out “My Love” (the bastard) and I had to face the fact that I actually liked the song.

Look at him. Smug as hell. What a jerk.

This is a simple example. But the emotional confusion caused by having to change my opinion about it still made me question who I was and what I believed. Imagine the internal barriers that had to break down for me to then go out and buy the entire Justin Timberlake album.

The longer we hold onto these internalizations of self, the harder they can be to let go of. But even the most deeply held conviction can get questioned. And nine times out of ten, the scary part isn’t finding out what your friends and family will say if you change. The truly scary part is realizing that you might want to change, that you might not be the person you thought you were. How do you go about making that change? How do you even begin to incorporate this new you into the world you’ve built for yourself up to this point?

Sometimes you don’t need to know how to do it. Sometimes you just need to know it’s okay to do it.

And it is. It’s okay to change. It’s normal to change. You, whoever you are and whatever path you are on, are allowed to change, to make big, sweeping, scary changes to any aspect of yourself you like. You’re allowed to cut that hair, watch that movie, take that trip, move to that town, switch from that political party, try that experience, anything.


Sometimes, during the blindfolded exercises, Baxter will chant, very simply, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.” He may not even know exactly what he’s allowing, but he doesn’t need to. The point is, you may have not actually heard someone tell you it’s okay. Whatever’s coming up under that blindfold that needs forgiveness, he’s giving you permission to forgive yourself.

So make the changes. Forgive yourself. Let go of the pain and open up to the freedom of change and newness.

It’s okay.

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Evolution of a Hooper – How I Shaped My Reality Through Hoop Dance

Photo by Shellie Smith

Recently, hooper Ann Humphreys wrote about the evolution of emotions and experiences that occur with the hoop:

What happens with the hoop is that you pick it up the first time, it feels cool and kinda looks cool too! Then you learn a few things, and start to get curious about the way it works. Very curious. Then you become obsessed. You try to learn everything about hooping. You develop hoop crushes. You start going to hooping events and workshops. You meet really awesome people. You network online and stay in touch. Then the hoop becomes your community, your flow family. People have experiences you can understand. You can understand their experiences.

Then, you begin to understand that the hoop is your spiritual practice, one of your deepest expressions of self. It becomes possible for you to imagine working with the hoop into your 70s and 80s. You are grateful to be given the opportunity to live in this body, to interact with this wonderful instrument during your brief visit on earth.

Then Lara Eastburn expanded on this in a post for, describing hooper’s relationships with other hoopers.

I wanted to use it as a vehicle to talk about my own evolution with the hoop.

I definitely went through everything in that first paragraph, as I’m sure plenty of other hoopers have as well. I could probably even go back through this journal and find posts documenting each and every one of those key moments Ann mentions.

What I want to spend some time discussing is the part that happens next, when you reach that “deepest expression of self” point. And really, I think this applies to all skill toys, or anything that requires practice to learn.

When you first start out with a toy, in my case the hoop, you have limited knowledge of it. You have to get it acquainted to your body, and your body to it. This takes time. I’ve written in the past about learning to love and embrace this process, because it’s so easy to wish you were already past it all, past the learning and the struggling. You want to be in that comfort zone where everything is easy and moves just come. Where you and the hoop are both part of one unified dancer.

I know I did. Oh man. I remember watching hoop videos when I first started and going, “How do they DO that?” I remember drilling tricks into my muscle memory, waiting for the time I would try it and nail it.

The truth is, you never fully get to that point where you can do everything you want to do. People are constantly coming up with new tricks, new combos, new styles that will inspire you and you will want to try. But you DO eventually get to a point where you are comfortable with the hoop, and you are able to do little to no thinking and just dance.

And that’s when you start to really connect with your toy.

HOWEVER. It’s so easy to miss the transition, because it happens so gradually. You’ll be going along, practicing, dancing, doing everything in this effort to reach this state, and it isn’t until you stop and take stock of it that you realize you are already there. You may have actually been there for a while.

I had this realization today. Granted, this isn’t the first time I’ve had it, it happens from time to time, but today I really THOUGHT about it. I thought about how connected I feel to the hoop when I dance with it, to the point that it’s not so much a toy anymore but an instrument, an extension of my body. When I am dancing, I know where the hoop is at all times. I know where it will land if I exert force from a given angle. I know how to prepare my body to catch it before it even reaches its destination. I know how it will react if I grab it a certain way.

These are the nuances that make someone a truly great hooper. I can honestly say that in the past several months, I’ve begun to feel that I am a great hooper. I’ve been complimented by, even told that I inspire, people who I watched in awe when I first started hooping. (Who am I kidding. I still watch these people in awe. The only difference is that now the feeling is mutual.) This is a powerful feeling, something that’s very easy to let go to your head. Just because you are great doesn’t mean you can’t get better, you can’t continue to grow. My hoop still surprises me, sometimes even eludes me, when I try a move I haven’t drilled into the ground. I still watch hoopers and wonder how the heck they DO that.

However, the point is that as you progress as a hooper (or toy manipulator, or anything), your skill becomes less about big leaps as you learn new moves, and more about subtlety as you learn how to connect everything, how to make those moves that took hours and hours of practice look like they are effortless. And by the way, the reason it’s possible to make a move look effortless is that, given enough practice, it becomes effortless. You just have to put in the effort to get there. 😉

The hoop-to-body connection is something I try to stress in my classes, because I want my students to experience that feeling of oneness with the hoop as quickly as possible. Even though it isn’t possible to get there all at once, realizing it’s possible upfront makes it a much more palatable goal to attain. I don’t know that I really understood the difference between compiling tricks vs. connection with your instrument until nine months into my hoop practice, when I went to Hoop Path Retreat 3 with Baxter and Ann (yes, the same Ann from the above quote). When Bax laid that concept out on the table, my whole perspective of hooping shifted, and I began to move in the direction of the hooper I am today, which is someone I’m extremely proud of.

At HoopPath Retreat 3

In some ways it feels like it happened all at once, the initial discovery, the obsession, the travel, the people, the spiritual growth. But then I realize it happened one step at a time, as I just kept stepping in the direction I wanted to go every day, towards feeling confident enough to really call myself a Hooper with a capital “H”.

This whole experience has taught me that I can build my own reality. When I first saw hooping, I didn’t have a hoop of my own, I hadn’t even touched a hula hoop since I was a kid, and I never would have dreamed of calling myself a dancer. All I knew was that for some reason, watching these people do this thing, I felt this deep stirring in my heart and I wanted to be a hooper.

And now I AM a hooper. Because I let myself be. I could have stood in the way and said no, you’re not talented/thin/athletic/graceful/motivated/worthy/etc. enough to be a hooper. There was PLENTY of this in my way, and not all of it came from myself. For some reason, with this particular hobby, I chose to push through all that and force myself into an area I was uncomfortable with: Letting myself be who I want to be.

I could have easily stopped at phase one, picking up the hoop and thinking it feels & looks cool. But I kept stepping forward, over, under and through all of the opposition that stood in the way of getting to the next step of the hoop journey. I did it, and continue to do it, one day at a time.

If you want it, it can happen. Just TRUST, and DO.

“I know you’re tired. I don’t care. Do it anyway.”

The above quote comes from Baxter of the HoopPath. He’ll say it when we’re waist-deep in some intense hoop workshop, we’ve been hooping our asses off for at least an hour and he throws a challenging exercise our way. And when we feel like we’re about to die, like we might collapse in exhaustion if we don’t stop hooping soon, he’ll throw it out there: “I know you’re tired. I don’t care. Do it anyway.”

It always makes me smile, and takes me back to that center, that part of me that LOVES being inside the hoop. It takes me out of my head and throws me back in the moment: “If you didn’t love this,” I tell myself, “you wouldn’t be here. So enjoy it!”

There might be some people who cringe at these words. They may come off as rude, insensitive, uncaring. They are, in fact, the exact opposite. When Baxter says this, it’s coming from a place of deep compassion: He knows what you’re worth. And he doesn’t want you giving up on yourself just because maybe, in this one moment, you might be a little tired. Push. Find what you’re made of. You’re worth it.

I’ve always been drawn to teachers like this. Teachers who don’t let you slack off, not because they’re dicks who want to assert their authority, but because they don’t want to see your potential get wasted in a pool of lethargy.

This is why Bikram is my chosen yoga guru. His class, in the hot room, with the vigorous dialogue, the constant movement, is meant to test you, to push you, to help you find out what you’re made of. If you read his books, he tells you that he does it because he knows what will save you, and he cares enough to tell you the truth.

It’s so easy to let yourself slide. It’s so easy to let yourself believe something is too hard, or that you can’t do it, or you’re too tired, or whatever your excuse may be. I know this because I do it all the time. And it’s just as easy for a teacher to agree to our laziness. It makes them well-liked, compassionate, and easy going. But it also makes them forgettable.

Think about the teachers you’ve had. Do you remember the ones that let every little thing slide? The ones who didn’t seem to care that you spent the entire class passing notes with your friends in the back? Or do you remember the ones that made you think? The ones who pushed your limits? Do you remember the ones who had absolutely no reason to care about you, and yet somehow, without explanation, they did?

Of course you do. Of everyone I’ve ever talked to, there’s always “that one teacher” who knew just the right motivation to get them moving, get them thinking.

Thinking of Baxter’s words has literally been what’s gotten me out of bed to go to yoga the past few days. I’m in the second half of my sixty-day challenge, and getting to class is starting to require a little digging. But I know if I get there, it will be worth it. However, it helps to have that little push out the door.

What have you got on your plate that you’re putting off, avoiding, letting fall to the wayside? How is it helping you to not do it? How much more do you have to gain if you just dig in and start? Don’t let lethargy, laziness, or a bit of hard work scare you off. I know you’re tired. I don’t care. Do it anyway.