A hula hoop is normally seen as a child’s toy. Many people might have even played with one on the playground in elementary school or at birthday parties. But for Shavaun Hairston, a hula hoop is not only a child’s toy but a source of happiness, income and much more.
Shavaun Hairston, also known as Zou Zou, is a hula hoop entertainer, teacher, and founder of the Nubian Spin troupe in Washington, D.C. She has hooped for many events, including Afropunk, SXSW and Burning Man.
But like many, Hairston hula-hooped as a child but thought nothing of it until she met a new friend during her trip to Nicaragua a few years ago.
"I was at this place called the Surf and Turf Lodge practically in the middle of nowhere," she says, "There was this girl there. We kept passing each other and having weird connections but didn’t speak. One time I was going to my room and I walked past her and she was hula-hooping behind the building by herself. I knew she was cool. I went over there and asked her about the tricks she was doing. That night, she taught me how to lift [the hula hoop] over my head, waist to hand. When I got it I was like, 'Oh sh*t! What is this?’ I was obsessed!"
The excitement of getting that trick just right fueled Hairston to start a hooping journey. Throughout her journey, she has met people in the large global hula-hooping community and improved her practice to the point of performing for many audiences around the globe. Her first hooping performance was with world record breaking Marawa the Amazing and her troupe, The Majorettes.
“I knew I was spending the summer in London," she says, "So I messaged her on Facebook, saying 'I want to be a majorette.' She replied, saying 'Oh, come to practice and see if the girls like you!' I was like 'Uhhh, for real?' Because they were big. I went to practice. They were awesome and they loved me. I became a majorette in London and my first performance was with them. It was really scary, but because of the group dynamic it’s a bit different."
Hairston as a Majorette with Marawa the Amazing; Photo: Facebook.com/zouzouhoop
Despite the initial fear of her first performance, hooping has helped Hairston with social anxiety.
"I used to have like crazy social anxiety," she says, "And it’s really kinda gone. To do something for two years and it changes the way you interact with people, I think it’s like magic. I know that it’s the path I took with it but even If I hadn’t done that, because you’re doing something that’s drawing attention to yourself but you are protecting from that attention because it’s a solo activity, it’s kind of like fueling you with validation of you doing something awesome without asking for it. It’s doing something for you internally which is cool."
Hooping is also linked to other health benefits, such as strengthening your core muscles, burning calories, improving hand-eye coordination, flexibility and boosting your mood.
Another benefit is the large community of hoopers. Once you start doing it, you realize that you are not alone. However, the hula hooping community isn’t seen as a diverse community.
Hairston decided to change that when she created the Nubian Spin troupe.Photo: Facebook.com/Nubian-Spin
"I decided to create a hula hoop troupe with all will black girls and name it Nubian Spin because the hoop community is so white," she says. "Not like as a rebellion but when black people look at hooping they think 'oh that’s some white hippie thing that they do'. But then, if you have a whole hoop troupe with black girls, you can’t say that. So then, they’ll start hooping. I’ve had people come up to me saying that they started hooping because of the troupe. That was my intention."
Her proudest moment was when her troupe performed at the 2015 Funk Parade in Washington, D.C. They also performed once again this past Funk Parade.
"Funk parade was like their coming out,” she said.
These past two years of hula-hooping has changed Hairston’s life and the journey isn’t over any time soon.
"My focus now in hooping is to get my name out there as a performer and instructor because I like teaching a lot. My troupe is also [my] focus. I kinda want to make a bigger more inclusive troupe that includes all races of the east coasts from New York to D.C. and pitch them for bigger gigs like corporate festivals."