Why Are Hoop Retreats So Expensive?

July 3, 2012 Caroleeena hoopdanceHoopingUncategorized

Morganza by the lake at Hoop Convergence

I remember a time when there were no hoop retreats. I remember playing in my backyard with Patika and AliCat and Christine and Valerie, dear friends and hoopers, all of whom lived a long drive away, and daydreaming aloud, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a retreat for hoopers!?! A place we could all get together and play together and share tricks? Yeah, that would be so great!” When, just a couple short years later, Jewels decided to run with the idea of Hoop Convergence, I was on board! She found space and with the help of Revolva, Spiral,and AliCat, we began to put together the world’s first international hoop gathering — Hoop Convergence.

Now, things were pretty different then. There were no online tutorials. There were maybe a handful of hoop jams, all of them far away from here. Hooping.org and Tribe.net were the only online presences where hoopers could connect and share. YouTube had just launched when Hooping.org posted a link to Stefan’s video “BurningMan 2004”.

I bet I watched that video a hundred times!!! All those hoopers!?! Together, in one place! I longed to be part of that, to hoop with those hoopers, all of us together, dancing and playing. Utopia! I am still grateful to Stefan Pildes of GrooveHoops for making that video. (And I’m shocked to see it only has 4,690 views. I thought it would have lot more than that by now. To me, that video was a huge part of the explosion of hooping in our culture.) That video opened a whole new world to me. I think it did for a lot of people.

Around that same time, a couple of intrepid hoopers with video cameras (I couldn’t imagine actually owning a video camera! This was also before they were on every single phone. Dang. I’m sounding old. I guess it just shows how quickly things change…) made the first videos to show other hoopers how to do a move — what we now call Hoop Tutorials. I think the first one was made by Ariel Meadow, co-founder of Hooping.org. I can’t remember what it was but I remember being gobsmacked by the idea of sharing moves via videos over the internet! It was so exciting! I immediately wanted more. I remember the second tutorial though. It was Natasha’s Four-Point Method for Chest Hooping:

This video stands the test of time and I think set a high bar for clearly and articulately teaching a hoop move. Before that we were all trying to describe hoop moves in words, lengthy lengthy posts on Tribe that were slowly crafting nomenclature we still use today. It was challenging and not very time-efficient. Still, what we didn’t realize was that we were in the process of sewing together a family of hoopers that would ultimately cover the entire globe. Hoopers who would someday be drawn to actually be in each other’s presence.

Which brings me back to Hoop Convergence. Now the idea for a gathering of hoopers was not ours. The folks who ultimately went on to create HoopCamp had come up with the idea. It had just been marinating for a couple of years when Jewels picked up the ball and ran with it. She found a space, beautiful Chestnut Ridge, and we put out a call for teachers and volunteers. I was amazed at the responses. We had teachers from San Francisco and L.A., Detroit, Boston, New York, Canada, more places than I can remember! We had hoopers who came all the way from Alaska!!! Things came together pretty fast … and then I started to get a little nervous. What if we all came together and all we had was the same ten or twenty tricks!?! I know that sounds silly now but for about a month there I began to have doubts and I can’t lie about it. I was worried but then … we all got together and BOOM! Hooping was, I think, changed forever. I began to see that there were regional flavors of hooping! What was happening in Boston was different than what was happening in New York, which was different than what was happening in San Francisco, which was different from what was happening in North Carolina. And so on and so on and so on…

All these flavors of hooping existed all over the country, all over the world really, and once we were able to meld together, hooping and hoop communities began to evolve and grow exponentially.

What does this have to do with how much hoop retreats cost? Well, I’m getting to that. See, when we started putting together Hoop Convergence, it didn’t take us long to realize there were a lot of costs involved — and none of us had any money so we sure as hell couldn’t afford to lose money! Hoopers needed places to sleep, good healthy food to eat, music to dance to, shelter from the elements. There were building rentals, equipment rentals, meal plans, deposits, equipment we would have to buy. There were tents to rent, tables to rent, buses to rent. There were sound systems, t-shirts, printing, lights and decorations. There were extinguishers, fire blankets, buckets and fuel. There were websites to build and logos to create and promotion and marketing to do. There were first aid kids and insurance and permits and permissions. There were more things than I can even remember now. And some of those things were ridiculously expensive! We had a great crew of volunteers and we provided what we could but you can’t rent out a whole camp for five days and not spend a lot of money. And then there was another expense that we felt it was important to invest in — teachers. Or, more specifically, Anah. We wanted Hoopalicious there. That felt important to all of us so we paid for her plane ticket to come. I think we helped with some other teacher’s travel expenses also. We didn’t cover anyone entirely but we did what we could to help.

As you can see, there are a lot of expenses involved in putting together a shindig like this. We didn’t lose money but we sure didn’t make money. None of us got paid for all our work. It was a labor of love but it was a lot of labor, a lot of stress, and a lot of time. It was also all-consuming for a very long time.

Spin Matsuri, Chiba Japan

Since then, hoop retreats have begun cropping up all over the world.¬†Yay! So many opportunities to study with so many amazing teachers. Consequently, organizers are being faced with the realities of the money, time, and energy investment required to make these gatherings happen. At the same time, more and more hoopers are asking, “Why so expensive?” I can tell you, this is a question that drives harried and exhausted organizers crazy! I have had to talk more than one in from a ledge. They know how much time, effort, and money they’re putting in so they naturally feel taken for granted and misunderstood but the people who want to come usually don’t know all that! (On the other hand, these kinds of gatherings also came up in a time when people in our community were arguing about teachers actually having the temerity to charge for classes. For some reason, there was a school of thought that because hooping is free, everything about it should be free. Believe it or not, there were actually people who slammed teachers for charging for classes, even though teachers had to find a teaching space, rent it, buy music, invest in and build tons of hoops to teach with, promote and advertise their classes, and, of course, build curricula to teach.) So it was against this backdrop that questions began to arise about the costs of these gatherings.

Look, I get it. I am as broke as the next person. I know that these gatherings can seem pricey, especially when paired with travel. But know this, every organizer I know goes to great lengths to try to make them as all-inclusive, cost-effective, and accessible as possible. They really strive to make gatherings where there will be no other ancillary expenses except for shopping and snacks. No one is getting rich, I promise. These organizers are doing a service for us all.

So to the organizers I suggest — educate, educate, educate. Be as transparent as possible. Help people understand the expenses involved in such an undertaking. Help them understand that you and you alone are taking the risk. Once people are made aware of what’s really involved, they are not only a lot more understanding, they are often willing to help. Articulate your vision and get people on board to help you. Be willing to receive, even if it means giving up some control. There is more than one way to do a thing.

Caroleeena's Class at Hoop Con

To the people who want to attend a hoop gathering, I suggest, save your pennies and invest in yourself! You will not regret it. At the end of the day, these things are a bargain. Professional conferences are usually thousands of dollars. Hoop conferences are nowhere near that. Recognize that you are not only investing in yourself (and your students if you are a teacher), you are investing in and helping grow this art. If you are going to a retreat that actually profit-shares with teachers, you are investing in teachers as well. (This is another article for another time but I do want to write about how investing in teachers helps us all. We vote with our dollars. What we spend our money on, we grow. If we want more Walmarts, shop at Walmart. If we want more access to hoop teachers, we need to invest in hoop teachers.) So buy your tickets and buy them early.

Hoopfest New England

Just this year HoopFest New England had to cancel their event, a wonderful event in a beautiful place by the ocean, because people failed to register early. Another gathering had to cancel several teachers because they couldn’t afford to help with the travel to get them there. These gatherings need your pre-registration dollars as seed money to make these events happen. If you are planning to go, don’t leave them hanging. Register and pay as early as you can. If you can’t afford a ticket, ask about work/trade. Ask about scholarships. Ask about teaching. Have a fundraiser to raise the money to go. Get creative. You are worth it.

Rebecca Hellemans, Organizer of Snow Flow Festival

Across the globe different gatherings are coming up with different strategies for managing the costs of these events. They still rely a lot on volunteers. Most teachers still aren’t paid, though some gatherings like Snow Flow Festival have integrated profit-sharing where students sign up ahead of time for the specific classes they want to take and most of that money goes to the teacher. Yet, even with profit-sharing, they have managed to keep their costs relatively low. Others, like Wildfire, do a great job of keeping costs low and yet still help teachers with some travel expenses. Still, most don’t cover everything. At the end of the day, teachers are still traveling far from home, giving up a week of their life, incurring expenses, and, more often than not, not getting paid. A lot of times dj’s and bands aren’t paid either. It’s like we’re asking these people to subsidize what we want from them. Frankly, I think that needs to change. If we want to draw on teachers from other countries, to add those flavors to the stew that is hoopdance in the United States, we’ve got to change. We can’t ask someone like Deanne Love to come from Australia to teach us and expect her to pay to do that. (And trust me, she’s great and totally worth the investment.) We need to invest in what we value. We need to invest in what, and whom, we love.

So, yes, it is important to explore ways of keeping costs as low as possible but also I think we need to fundamentally change the way we think about investing our money. We invest in what matters to us. A hoop gathering invests in hooping and hoop retreats and hoop teachers but most of all, it invests in YOU, the person attending.

Hoop retreat organizers, thank you for what you’ve done for our community, for taking on all the risk, and for investing in us. Hang on. We value you and you deserve to be recognized and rewarded for all your hard work. You are not alone. We will figure this out as a community.

Hoop teachers, thank you for your teaching, coaching, cheerleading, creativity, inspiration and hard work. Hang on. We value you and we will figure out a way to empower you to do what you are so good at and what we need as a community.

Hoopers, thank you for investing in this art, in our community, in teachers, and in yourself. Hang on. We will figure out a way to make this information and experience as accessible as possible to as many people as possible — together, as a community.

Thank you ALL!!! What is birthed at hoop retreats ultimately benefits all of us, even if we never attend a single retreat. We are investing in the art that we love. We are investing in building community. We are investing in hooping. And that investment is changing the world. I am proud to be a part of what we are building and I am grateful for each and every one of you.

hoop convergencehoop retreatshoopdancehoopfestsnow flow

12 Responses to “Why Are Hoop Retreats So Expensive?”

  • Melissa says:

    Thanks for this information! Drumming retreats have similar issues.

  • Tricia says:

    I have been trying to find a hooping class in the Raleigh area and have been unsuccessful. Does anyone know of any in this area?

  • Thank you for writing and posting this Caroleena… I want to encourage everyone to go to retreats and invest in themselves as well!!! It makes SUCH A HUGE DIFFERENCE when we all show up in our best spirit, contributing to the art form we love. <3 (also, I am a festival organizer and I would love to invite all to come and play with us at Florida Flow Fest, this NOVEMBER!!! Early Bird Tickets are ON SALE NOW for $65… http://www.floridaflowfest.com)

  • Jewels says:

    Thanks so much for writing this article, Caroleeena. I resonate with your words. Each year, during those lulls of registration after deposits have been made, I am literally biting my nails wondering if we’ll go in debt. Every year that Hoop Convergence has happened, I have put my personal money on the line to reserve venues, meal plans, transportation, event tents, etc. And back in 2008, it was especially scary because I was just making the transition to ‘full-time hooping’ and financial flow was absolutely unstable. In 2008, we couldn’t afford exclusivity, a rockin’ meal plan or event tents we had such a small budget. Our prices haven’t changed over the past 5 years, but we’ve improved the event each time — added event tents, increased the quality of the food, added a public showcase, moved to exclusive event rental. Thus, each year, the profit stream has actually diminished rather than grown.

    I strongly considered letting 2012 be the last Hoop Convergence (at least for a while) because it is quite a beast – hard work, lots of stress, and not a lucrative line of work for time spent. Investing time/money in the event prohibits investing time in other projects, teaching, taking gigs, traveling, or just enjoying time off (wait, what’s that?!) However, when we’re all there together co-creating that level of magic, its absolutely priceless. ((So YES, there will be another Hoop Convergence!))

    I do want to clarify a point about the history of these events. In 2003, I read an article written by Kandice & Christabel on hooping.org about a dream event in downtown LA. (Maybe still in hooping.org archives?) There was excitement about having classes in town during the day and DJs in clubs in the evenings. I was so giddy about the idea of meeting other hoopers, sharing and learning new skills. So many folks in the community were stoked to dream of such an opportunity. You say that “The folks who ultimately went on to create HoopCamp had come up with the idea”. However, to my knowledge, each of those ladies (Kandice & Christabel) let the idea fall away, went on with their own projects and neither of these original instigators are part of the organizational part of Hoop Camp (which is organized by Heather Troy). The first Hoop Camp & Hoop Convergence occurred in the same year (2008). We were probably both conspiring at the same time, but Hoop Convergence was 6 months earlier and had a lot of its process in a public space (tribe.net) as we recruited teachers and participants from there. Its certainly true that every hooper may have thought it a great idea, but before 2008, no one had taken the leap of faith required to make the dream a reality.

    Wanting to learn more and connect, I had personally traveled in 2003 to meet Miami to meet Anah & Rayna, to Canada, then to NYC to visit Stefan, Malcolm and the other groovehoops crew. Then, in 2004, Spiral, Bax & I headed to that Burning Man (its me in the super conservative pink dress b/c Bax & I were headed to a Southern Hospitality party:) thinking BM would fulfill that need for learning on a deeper level. While it did meet a need for community in subtle ways, I still craved more focused discussions, classes & guaranteed jams — without the same extremities! However, I was still waiting for someone else to make it happen.

    In 2007, the Business side of hooping was getting more serious. Retreats were happening, but we still hadn’t had any event that was to bring together many teachers from different perspectives and backgrounds to one place in an equal playing field, to share and to evolve the artform. It was that moment, partly in excitement, partly in frustration, partly sourced from the unknown, I created the tribe and said YES. This is important! We are doing this NOW!

    I am so thankful that in that moment in late 2007, Revolva, Spiral, Alicat & Caroleena were in support and the first to say YES! We’ll teach, AND we’ll help! Then so many teachers came on board. We were half teachers that year — 22 of 50 participants! Greg Roberts rocked out a logo and built the website. In April, we converged for 5 days and had an after party at Shakori HIlls Music Festival for another 5.

    After that first year, Scott became my main system of support for this event. ((Just had to send some love his way for how epically fabulous he is and how much he does and sacrifices to make Hoop Convergence happen each year.)) However, even with 5 years under our belt, basic infrastructure and system in place, its still a lot of work and risk EVERY TIME.

    So, again, THANK YOU for reminding every one the importance of these events. They absolutely evolve the artform through opportunity for co-creation, collaboration and community building. And I am so thankful for everyone who organizes these events. It is such a blessing to go teach, play and be inspired. Hoop Convergence literally blows my mind and heart wide open every year and sets my Spring off just right for every other event!

    Blessings & gratitude~

  • Caroleeena says:

    There is also a lot to be said for getting coaching feedback that is specific to you. You can watch youtube videos all day long but if you don’t have feedback to tell you what’s not working for you, you’re just building muscle memory of doing it wrong.

  • Jeannine Ameduri says:

    Caroleeena, that was such a well-written article! I wish more people would support the arts monetarily (when they can) and with their participation. I wish this country were more supportive to artists in terms of helping them earn a living with benefits (like in France). Hoop teachers definitely deserve to get paid – how will they have time to practice, perform, and teach if they are working 3 jobs already? (And I know some of you already are!)

    I hope the festival organizers don’t give up on us. Many of us were certainly dealing with a lack of resources this year, but I hope the organizers will give us more wonderful hooping events to attend…please???

  • dorne pentes says:

    hey, caroleena! great article-nicely thought out and well-presented argument. thank you!

  • Cara Zara says:

    Caroleeena, This is beautiful written. Teachers should be paid not only for their time during the event but also for all the time spent expanding their craft. They should be paid for their talent. They should be paid for their ability to teach. Teaching is more than being an impressive hooper with many tricks. Teaching involves a completely different skill set that involves mentally taking what your mind and body know how to do then translate it and break it into slow motion into a verbal and physical sequence to make it easier for others to grasp and duplicate. It’s also having the ability to flip the sequence from right to left and left to right in order to teach both right and left handed hoopers. It’s harder than many think it is. You’ve always been an inspiration to me and are one of the best teachers I know. You freely give so much of your talent in your online tutorials. Thank you! XO Cara Zara

    • Cora Schiller says:

      Exactly ~ this is why i grab a ticket right away & work my lil ass off to pay it off before the event. Besides the evening entertainment to me is in itself worth the $ !!
      I am still buiding a hoop community here on Vancouver Island BC, & even some of the very enthusiastic hoopers dont make there way a short distance to some of the amazing instructors i have brought to the community ??* Yet are always wanting to learn new hoop techniques so….There is nothing wrong with gratis you tube videos but hey !!! you cant even compare to seeing Malcolm, Khan, YOU in the person sharing your hoop skills & besides this is where you really get the connection to the hooping community & that it is so much more than hooping ~ HUGS <3

      • Frenchy says:

        It’s a bit different here in NZ right now, our economy is very little, and its not so much of a consumer society over here so we dont value money as much as many other people in the world – the NZ Hoopfest runs with the commitment, passion and love of its community – none of us get paid, the crew and the tutors and everyone involved does it for the love – they dont get paid but they do get fed very well, housed and their expenses covered – the volunteer culture in NZ means that even those who have bought a ticket get involved with helping out so it becomes easier for all those involved – we have a big and committed crew so no one is working too much – and it becomes a stronger community – it is a beautiful and majikal thing – and it means at only $90 NZD with your food and your accommodation included it is a totally affordable option for almost everyone – we even have AP’s where people can pay as little as $4 a week…

        It’s a hard decision to make, but it makes for a beautiful and autonomous event. We all have to do things for money to survive in this world so we need to be realistic, but leave that money exchange for the corporate world, and for your classes, giving back to your community is one of the best rewards you can ever have.

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