The hula hoop might seem like a relatively new product, something that twirled into the Pop Culture scene in the 1950s. But hoops have been used to exercise since the days of Cynisca of Sparta, the first woman to win at the ancient Olympic Games, and Chionis of Sparta, one of the towering figures of ancient sports.

In fact, many historians believe Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, prescribed rolling hoops as part of a physical fitness regimen. Evidence of the popularity of using hoops in exercise can be found on antiquities, such as vases and carvings.

Today, the hoop fitness movement has circled the globe. Hooping classes combine aerobics and conditioning exercises set to a buoyant playlist while participants keep the hoop spinning around his or her waist.

Such classes are available in the Outer Banks, facilitated by expert hoopers and devotees of flow art — such as Chel Rogerson, founder of Bliss Fit, which both provides flow entertainment and teaches others to follow their bliss through a fun, movement meditation practice.

The hoop is one of the props Rogerson and other members of the OBX flow tribe use to dazzle audiences at local venues and on area beaches. Flow artists incorporate rhythmic belly dance and yoga moves, aerial dance and pole dancing — and sometimes fire — in their performances.

Rogerson says the name of her company is derived from the feeling one gets while getting into the flow of such movements: The experience is so inherently positive that any negative energy dissipates. Even those who watch a performance or demonstration feel joyous, she says.

“I went to my first pole class ten years ago, and that’s when I began to explore movement, dance and flow as an art form,” says Rogerson, who is also a Yoga Alliance-certified instructor and Reiki practitioner. “I picked up my first hoop about four years ago; that’s when my flow arts career started.”

Rogerson’s routines include staged choreography, as well as freestyle work. Mastering each routine takes eight weeks to orchestrate and develop.

“For freestyle, the audience will just be mesmerized by movement and manipulation of the prop,” she says. “For my stage pieces, I select at song, theme, prop and costume and choreograph a story. For example, my last piece was a retro-flapper style theme with a swing dance version of the song, ‘No Diggity,’ where I slowly build up from two hoops to four and a finale of 20.”

200-Mile Coastline,

a Community of One

The Outer Banks is a series of barrier islands — little more than a collection of sand bars — that jut out off the coast of North Carolina. The treacherous waters from Cape Henry to Cape Fear have claimed more than 2,000 ships and countless lives, which is why the waters off the coast earned the ominous nickname, the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

But the same powerful energy that churns the waters also fuels the metaphysical properties of the area, which stir the souls and calm the minds of those who walk its beaches. Many believe the prana — or universal life force — of the Outer Banks balances the body, provides clarity and creates physical harmony — and that’s why artists, poets, writers and those who embrace the movement meditation practice of flow are drawn to its shores.

Corolla

Even for a person like Kenzie Mitzner — who graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, neuroscience and philosophy — when it comes to the inexplicable power of flow, it’s a case of the age-old paradox: What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force?

The answer? It surrenders — and goes with the flow.

“I started hooping as a hobby in college and taught myself tricks through YouTube videos and tutorials,” says Mitzner, 28, adding what began as a whimsical pastime quickly became an irresistible force. She traveled to Denver, Colorado, and studied aerial dance at Mesmerie Entertainment, which instructs serious dancers, acrobats, athletes and others in circus art performance, cirque-style.

“My answer may be surprisingly non-scientific, but I truly believe the flow state is one in which you are so engrossed in the moment — the ‘now’ — that all mental formations cease to impede your ability to be a channel for the divine,” she says. “In a flow state, much of what I do seems to come from a source outside of myself. I don’t think. I don’t direct. I just move and observe. It’s a way of tapping into the space of nothingness that is the source of all things.”

Mitzner’s expertise is to spin or manipulate different props — such as hoops, fans, rope dart and levitation wand — all of which have versions that can be set ablaze. She’s also an aerialist specializing in silks, lyra (an aerial hoop) and pole. “Think Cirque du Soleil and people climbing curtains suspended from the ceiling,” she says.

The full-time Corolla resident — she works at the Corolla Cantina, 1159 Austin Street — says her entire existence is about collecting experiences, so it should come as no surprise to those who know her that flow speaks to her core self because it incorporates one of her first loves: Dance.

“Something about dance has always stuck with me,” says Mitzner, who began taking dance classes when she was 5. “Aerial and flow arts were the first places I figured out I could use dance as a way to grow and challenge myself in ways that would ripple well beyond my physical appearance.”

Her favorite flow experience is any easy call to make: Aerial work.

“Aerial silks is probably my favorite apparatus. I find it to be the most challenging — physically and mentally. The vertical nature of the apparatus allows for dramatic show-stopping drops unlike any other,” she says. “It’s thrilling because you’re up 20, 30, 40 feet in the air, and the only thing holding you up is yourself. You have to know exactly what you’re doing and what your limitations are, or you’re risking injury or death. That, combined with an audience, can make for a very thrilling experience.”

She’s never injured herself in an aerial performance, though she has suffered a minor 1st degree burn from a fire prop.

“Safety is huge in these industries, and I make sure to dress in fire safe clothing and follow all protocols that ensure the safety of myself and others,” she says. “When it comes to aerial, we practice in an extremely progressive and methodical way. I would never attempt a move in an aerial performance that I haven’t already practiced dozens of times.”

In addition to working with Bliss Fit, Mitzner also books gigs through the Airotique Aerial Fitness and Performing Arts, a Virginia Beach-based troupe, and as an independent artist.

She performs May 17 — and every Tuesday after Memorial Day — at the Roadside Bar & Grill, 1193 Duck Road in Duck.

Roadside owner Ashley Copeland says she met Mitzner through an instructor at Village Yoga in The Waterfront Shops in Duck.

“I was looking for something out of the ordinary to do at The Backside Bar (the bar behind the restaurant) this summer. We have always had the hula hoops available, and people seemed to have the best time with them when someone that could really hoop was participating,” Copeland says. “It drew a crowd, and everyone wanted to give it a try. I decided we needed a hula hoop ringer. I began asking around.”

Copeland says when she met Mitzner, knew she’d found her hooper.

“Kenzie brings another dimension of fun to The Backside. She works with kids of all ages during the early evening and tries to engage everyone,” the restaurateur says. “After dark, it becomes more of a performance with the bigger kids giving it a whirl: That’s where the hops come in handy — liquid courage to help bring out the ‘inner hooper’ in us all.”

Kill Devil Hills

Fire dancer Panda Daniels says her flow arts journey began nine years ago, when she traveled to Tulum, Mexico, as part of a stylist team for a destination wedding. It was there that she first saw a fire dancer perform — and it was an undeniable connection.

“I had an epiphany that night,” says Daniels, who owns Salt Hair by Panda, 2701 N. Croatan Highway. “I held on to that desire to be one of those magical people dancing with flames.”

Daniels shared her revelation with Irene Krohn, a longtime friend who performs with Imagine Circus — a Raleigh-based cirque-style entertainment troop with aerial arts, acrobatics, fire, flow arts and more. Krohn was more than happy to share the love and give Daniels some tips.

“Irene is quite talented at teaching a novice some techniques and, more importantly, fire safety,” Daniels says. “It took some time, but I lit my first set of poi two months after falling in love with fire dancing in Mexico.”

Since them, Daniels has performed throughout the Outer Banks, most recently as part of the entertainment provided during the 15th Annual Outer Banks Bike Week bike week.

On May 10, Daniels and Kaylan Ezekiel Watson, a hooper and stilter, will dance for a Full Moon Party hosted by Bonzer Shack Bar & Grill, 1200 S. Virginia Dare Trail, Kill Devil Hills. The party begins at 10 p.m., and everyone is invited.

“Dancing with live drumming gives a performance an energy that you might be pressed to find with a playlist. Moving my body is a meditation. Add fuel and flame, and you become hyper-focused quickly,” she says. It’s an adrenaline rush to hear the fire whoosh! as you light the Kevlar.”

There’s just something about the Outer Banks that feeds her soul and makes her want to give wing to her tribal side through flow, she says.

“The Banks has always pulled me towards her. There’s an energy here that both calms and excites me. I think the laid-back vibe that people feel here works well with this type of performance art,” Daniels says, adding the greatest reward is being able to let others experience what she felt the night the lightning bolt struck her soul and sent her on a new path.

“That’s my favorite part — providing an audience with energy and an experience that, perhaps, they will carry with them long after; passing on what I felt that night on the beach in Tulum.”

Nags Head

The OBX flow tribe also includes Giovanna “Gia” Quattrone, whose stage moniker is Fire Fairy. Quattrone specializes in costumed- and themed performance using LED hoops — color-changing light hoops — fire fans and multi-hoops of all sizes.

The 21-year-old Nags Head-based performer is also a torch-wielding artisan and gallery assistant at Seagreen Gallery, 2404 S. Virginia Dare Trail in Nags Head.

Quattrone says working with fire — both as a metalsmith and in flow — appeals to her because fire is a powerful agent of transformation.

“Fire has been used for ritual, for cooking and for light by humans throughout time. Our eyes are attracted to it. There can be a sacred feeling for some,” she says. “Seeing fire manipulated in an artistic, beautiful way brings the sensation of flow to those watching the performance. It becomes a shared special experience.”

Seagreen Gallery owner Susan Evans has been to several of Quattrone’s performances. She says Quattrone, “is a loving, kind spirit who moves and interacts with an aura of fluidity and grace, which translates beautifully to her hooping.”

Hatteras Island

On the other end of the Outer Banks, 28-year-old fire hooper Randi Machovec says the energy of life on a sand bar fuels her art.

“This place is magical. Everywhere you turn, there’s inspiration and some amazing outdoor activity to get immersed in. I love taking my hoop to the beach and getting into a completely meditative flow — shutting my mind off and letting my body express creativity in the moment,” says Machovec, who in 2012 relocated to the area from Baltimore, Maryland. “Sunset and sunrise hoop sessions here in the Outer Banks are absolutely incredible. Fire hooping under a full moon with the waves crashing in the background will never get old.”

Finding a tribe of like-minded souls was an unexpected gift from the universe.

“There is an incredible community of flow artists here in the Outer Banks, and it has been a pleasure to watch that community flourish. When I first moved here, I was already an avid hooper and had moved away from a tight-knit group of friends in Baltimore that hooped together often.” Machovec says. “I was searching for that here, and I finally met some fellow local hoop dancers after about three years of living here. ..I feel like the flow community, in general, is a tribe of sorts — everyone is very friendly, open-minded and supportive.”

Machovec also was inspired to create art — surfboards, canvases, shells, driftwood and more — through Spinfinite Designs, the business she co-founded with her fiancé Blake O’Sullivan. (The couple will marry this fall at the Koru Village Beach Klub in Avon.)

“I live and breathe art to my core, and Spinfinite Designs is my full-time ‘occu-passion’,” she says. “I love bringing a whimsical, colorful, joyful vibe to every surface my paintbrush meets. I also make handmade hula hoops for adults and kids that are super sturdy, easy-to-use and beautiful.” (Machovec made the first professional hoop used by Quattrone and also taught her how to spin fire.)

Just as her tangible creations are inspired by her coastal surroundings, so is her desire to express herself through flow art: The Outer Banks elicits a simultaneous sense of serenity and jubilance, and that’s just too powerful a combination to tamp down, she says. It calls for celebration.

“Performing for an audience is absolutely a rush, and receiving energy back from the crowd is definitely a fuel that keeps my fire going, no pun intended,” she says. “Folks coming up to me to tell me how they were amazed by my show or even just that they’re inspired to pick up a hula hoop again; hearing the applause when I nail a trick; inspiring kids to hoop and hearing that they’re still at it years later and asking about me… that’s what keeps me performing.”

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