Why Are Hoop Retreats So Expensive?
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.
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.
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.
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.