There’s fire creeping closer to her body, inches away from burning bare skin. She looks up and there’s only more fire; she tries to move away and it follows. There’s no time to run. The adrenaline is kicking in and at the highest peak it stops. She becomes calm and focused. Fear is not what is consuming her, but excitement. She knows that it’s time for her to perform.
Emily Gandolfo is the girl on fire. She was a student at SUNY Plattsburgh who took her passion of hula hooping to create the club Hoop Troop.
She is now a graduate and a professional performer doing shows in New York City, with upcoming plans in Colorado and Florida. She has left her mark of creativity and individuality on the campus, leaving Hoop Troop worthy of attention.
Founded in 2014, Hula Hoop Performance Troop and Club strives to empower students on campus to practice a healthy lifestyle while having fun. Gandolfo wanted to give students a chance to explore their individualities in a safe and fun environment, but she shortly found out that it wasn’t going to be easy. She was never nervous to start something that she was passionate about, but the repercussions of it were hard to deal with. After being cyberbullied and shamed on by people on campus, her fire started to die.
“People started calling me really mean names, started rumors about me, and even went as far to track my location on campus and disclose it on the app YikYak,” Gandolfo said.
“It was a really hard period for me … [and] there were times that I wanted to stop and just not do it.”
But Gandolfo wasn’t alone. She had people who supported her: friends; her adviser, Michelle Ouellette; her mother; and even Taylor Swift, with her song “Shake it Off.” These hardships didn’t stop her from hooping. It was hooping that ultimately saved her.
“My hoop gave me the confidence and motivation to keep going because I knew eventually people would come, and they did,” Gandolfo said.
Hoop Troop focuses on friendship and creating an environment where people can feel comfortable being themselves. College can be difficult when it comes to being yourself, especially as a freshman. The air feels different, the people seem scarier and the classes sure are a lot harder. Hoop Troop was made to be the place where people can be whoever they want to be no matter where they come from or what their skill level is. Perfection isn’t the goal, acceptance is.
After graduating in 2017, Gandolfo handed her creation to Taylor Scott, the current president of Hoop Troop. Scott has changed some aspects of the club since Gandolfo left, but the real essence of what makes Hoop Troop welcoming and worthy of attention remains the same. Standing out and being different.
“Everyone hoops differently. But that’s what makes it more individualistic. That’s what gives us the wow factor because we aren’t robots. Everyone has their own thing going on,” Scott said.
Hoop Troop is more than just a club. It is a family of women and men who feel comfortable enough to be who they are. Hula hooping becomes much more than just a fun, physical activity for these members. It becomes an opportunity to let their originality flow out.
“When people hoop, it’s like the rawest version of themselves,” Scott said.
Like anything else, practice makes perfect. After mastering hooping tricks, people can start to add their own styles and personalities into it. That’s where the individuality comes out. In a team where everyone embraces one another, this is the place to find it.
It’s about time to turn the flames on as she steps forward to perform. Her adrenaline is at its max until she hits the platform. Then a smile consumes her face and focus is all that can be seen in her eyes. Gandolfo’s hula hoop spins with fire.