In our new blog series, we get to know the instructors who will be teaching at this year’s Brighton Flow Festival.
In our second instalment, we sit down with Jennie Brennen who tells us about her journey from introverted living room hooper to hoop teacher, performer and purveyor of spectacular handmade hoops.
“I know all too well how much courage it takes to put yourself in the vulnerable position of trying to learn something new.”
1. When did you start hula hooping and how?
In 2011 after finishing university I learned to waist hoop with a cheap supermarket hoop as a less boring and less neck ache inducing way to work on core strength and tone my waist. I then bought myself one of those thick, heavy, weighted foam fitness hoops and kept learning with that, but I quickly got bored of standing in place. I went on YouTube in search of tutorials on how to turn in the hoop and that’s when I discovered that the modern movement art of hoop dance existed and that you can do all sorts of cool things with a hoop!
I have a long background and a degree in physical theatre but hadn’t done anything performative or dancey for a while. Hooping was my way back into a regular form of creative exercise and performative physical expression, and I soon got absolutely hooked, although it took me a long time to feel confident enough to practice outside of my living room, and even longer to feel comfortable hooping around other people and going to workshops. I was a shy, self-taught hooper for a long time!
2. When did you realise you wanted to teach hoop?
I realised I wanted to take hooping to a professional level after attending my first multi-day hoop event, Manchester Hoop Congress 2014. That’s when I opened my hoop shop, mainly to fund further hoop events I wanted to attend at first, but I soon realised that I loved making hoops and could build a business out of it. I performed with my hoops for the first time at Manchester Hoop Congress 2015, and with the fresh confidence that gave me, I started offering private lessons so I could spread that happiness around and expand my business. I was super nervous, but soon realised I had a knack for teaching and that I really enjoyed it!
My first major teaching event was at Schoola Hoop Camp 2015. I was even more nervous to teach a proper class at a large event but was blown away by how fun and rewarding it was, and by all the lovely feedback I received. I knew then I’d finally found a way to support myself by doing something that I loved and that was creative, artistic and movement based. Attending Jo’s LiveLoveHoop Teacher Training course helped me to feel more confident, organised and prepared!
3. What is a surprising fact about being a hoop teacher?
Honestly, it’s still how naturally it comes to me and how much I enjoy it! I’m a bit of an introvert, so the prospect of teaching a class still feels a bit daunting even today, but I now have the firm knowledge that I’m good at what I do, and that passing on my skills and my love for hooping makes me feel wonderful!
4. What do you love about teaching hula hooping? What motivates you?
Seeing that joy and excitement light up people’s faces when they learn something new. Hearing someone tell me that they can’t do something, then helping to ease their frustration and build their self-confidence until they break through that barrier and level up their repertoire of tricks – it’s such an amazing feeling!
I was always that creative but shy and self-doubting child, so I know all too well how much courage it takes to put yourself in the vulnerable position of trying to learn something new, and it feels so amazing to help reward someone for that bravery by helping them see that they can do so much more with their body than they might have been told or have told themselves in the past.
5. Have you had any disaster hoop moments? What did you learn from it?
Thankfully nothing has gone majorly wrong in my hooping career – yet! I’ve dropped many, many hoops on my face though, especially when I started learning to juggle them.
I also nearly sank into marsh muds a few weeks ago, trying to retrieve a lost hoop whilst shooting some footage for Instagram. I made it out in one piece, but I did lose my shoes. That’s my most hilarious hoop mishap story to date!
6. What are your plans for the coming year?
To keep training and upping my game in my personal practice, particularly building new performance pieces and improving my hoop juggling, which I’m absolutely obsessed with right now! I’d like to secure some more teaching gigs and some more paid performances – which I absolutely love doing but am still a bit nervous about putting myself forwards for. Always working on that self-confidence!
I’d also like to improve further in the “dance” aspect of my hoop dance practice, and I’m always working on expanding my hoop shop, which I’ve poured a lot of love into over the past five years!
7. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting to learn hoop, what would it be?
Be patient and consistent and believe in yourself! We get told a lot of limiting things throughout our lives, and so few of them are true. If you keep putting in the time and effort and keep challenging yourself, there’s no telling what you might come to achieve!
8. What’s your favourite hooping video and why? (can be yours or someone else’s)
I saw this video very early on in my hoop journey (when I was still hiding away in my living room) and was absolutely blown away by the fluidity of her movement, and the seamless sense of connection she has with her hoop. Even though I may have since reached (perhaps even surpassed) the skill level in the video, it still serves as powerful emotional motivation.
It’s really easy to get bogged down in the “business” aspects of hooping professionally, and to see practice as “work”, but watching this brings me back to the most important aspect of hooping – that body-prop connection and how wonderfully cathartic and special it can feel to express yourself in such a unique way. She’s so connected to that hoop, so fully immersed in the movement. It’s so beautiful.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Jennie!
Learn from Jennie and three other amazing teachers!
Book your ticket for the Brighton Flow Festival taking place on November 16th 2019 at the King Alfred Ballroom. A full day of workshops and play (and hanging out after!).