Flow arts take hula hooping to new level

Local performance artists host movie premiere event to benefit at-risk youth

The Visual Vortex Spin Collective has made a name for themselves over the past four years as a local talented group of performance artists. Now, they are looking to give back to the community under the name of their spin-off group, Spo Flo.

The Hooping Life,” a documentary that follows the sometimes-chaotic lives of eight professional hula hoopers, had its Spokane premiere hosted by the Visual Vortex Spin Collective at the downtown Magic Lantern Theatre this past Sunday. Fire-spinners, hula-hoop artists and jugglers decorated Sprague Avenue, giving demonstrations and introductory classes.

All of the proceeds from the event went to SPEAR (Serving People through Entertainment, Art and Recreation), a local non-profit that helps at-risk youth in the West Sprague neighborhood.

Stefani VanDeest, co-founder of the Visual Vortex Spin Collective, said she was inspired to host the event after hosting several summer workshops with SPEAR. Speaking from experience about the hardships of her own adolescence, VanDeest said she can sympathize with many of the teens that SPEAR works to help.

For more than 40 years, SPEAR has provided kids ages four to 18 with a safe place to play, do homework and eat dinner. SPEAR also runs a food bank, a clothing bank and helps supply low-income families with general goods.

VanDeest said she hopes the event will encourage local youth to become involved in the flow arts, the collective term for hula-hooping, juggling, poi (swinging tethered weights at high speeds, usually while on fire) and contact juggling.

VanDeest said she believes today’s youth could benefit from the physical and spiritual peace that comes from the flow arts. VanDeest said the core philosophy behind it is a unity between mind and body.

“You just become so immersed in the movement that you become it,” VanDeest said.

VanDeest started Visual Vortex with two friends in 2008 as a “hoop troupe,” the technical term for a group of hula-hoopers. Visual Vortex has since evolved into a well-rounded “spin collective,” incorporating poi, gymnastics, juggling, contact juggling and staff spinning.

In 2010, VanDeest and her fellow flow artists began Spo Flo, a weekly gathering at Emerson Park where people could come and participate in the flow arts community.

VanDeest and her fellow performers earn a living booking events and hosting private lessons.

The weekly gatherings usually open with yoga, as people trickle in from the street carrying a wide assortment of “flow arts” tools — hula hoops, poi, staffs, bowling pins and contact juggling balls.

It isn’t the type of hula-hooping one might expect to see on the playground. The concert of hoops move hypnotically around the waist, then down around the knees, and then up into the air for a spin before seamlessly moving back into rhythm.

While people are encouraged to practice with the tools available, many are content to sit at benches and on blankets. Their conversations are warm and lively as they watch the performance unfold.

It’s the Spo Flo community that has helped Brooke Hatch, a member of two years, through an enormous transformation.

Hatch first met VanDeest in January of 2011. Hatch was struggling through a “toxic relationship” and a lifelong battle with obesity. After many unsuccessful attempts, VanDeest finally convinced Hatch to learn the art of hooping.

“It just kind of got me out of my box,” Hatch said.

Hatch started hooping for just half an hour a day to her record player, and attending the Wednesday night Spo Flo gathering at the park. Two years later, 60 pounds lighter and with a brighter outlook on life, Hatch attributes her metamorphosis to the support of the Spo Flo community. Hatch considers the Spo Flo group part of her family — a family that she hopes will grow.

“I want other people to be able to come and get involved, because of how positive it’s been for me, [to] just be in flow, and not think about all the craziness of your day,” Hatch said.

Lucas Thayer Staff Writer

Contact Lucas Thayer at lthayer12@my.whitworth.edu