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Day 4: Hoopers wanted in Dubai

7 Jan
Jumeirah women's only beach.

Jumeirah women’s only beach.




Day 4 started with some much needed sunbathing at Jumeirah beach. The water was a familiar turquoise and the sand a golden brown, similar to the beaches in Miami. But, one thing stuck out to me: there were only women at the beach. This shouldn’t have surprised me given the conservative nature of Dubai. I should have expected it since the taxi driver said he didn’t want to take us to the open beach. “It is too crowded and there are men there,”  he said.

Instead, he took us to the park which cost about 5 dirhams to get in ($1.36). But, they had showers, which we needed since we had to go straight to work after. Although the beach looked similar to South Beach, it was very different. No house music or drinks from Wet Willies were in sight (maybe it has to do with the fact alcohol is illegal here.) Instead people were quietly sunbathing with the occasional background sound of the traditional prayer over loud speakers. It was soothing in a sense and was the kind of beach I prefer.

After the beach we went outside to flag a cab and a guy with a white Lexus asked us where we needed to go.

We were warned that unmarked cabs were significantly more expensive.

“No thank you,” we said. “We’ll take the one over there, yours is more expensive.”

“No, it is the same, starts at 3.50 dirhams,” he replied.

Reluctantly we got in. But we were right. After complaining to him at our arrival to the mall, he knocked off a measly 3 dirhams and admitted that his cab did cost more.

Work started off slowly with a small influx of toddlers again, but picked up with more older kids as the night progressed. Tonight was probably the most I used my teaching skills, particularly to a girl around the age of 13. She was a natural and picked up tricks that took me a week to learn. We even made a routine and showed it to her parents. At the end of the night, between Gabbi and I, quite a few children and parents were asking where they could take further lessons.

But, we didn’t have an answer. These children were so enthusiastic about learning more, but there is no hooping community in Dubai or anyone who teaches lessons. After countless searches on Facebook, and Hoopcity after work, I still found nothing. It saddens me that these children won’t have fellow hula hoopers to help them progress. I suggested free tutorials on YouTube, which is how I learned.

But, the good thing is that this festival is planting the seed of interest, so much that about a dozen kids have come back more than once to learn more. The 13-year-old even took a video of me doing a trick so she could replay it to learn at home. She told me she will come back on Friday.

So, on a closing note, any hoopers who are not currently tied down in their current place of residence and want to inspire a new generation, Dubai is one of the places in desperate need of some expertise. So if you’re feeling adventurous, head over to the desert and spread the hoopspiration.


Day 3: No, I do not want a fake designer handbag

6 Jan

Well, since Sunday is actually the first day of the week in Dubai (America, and most other places’ Monday), the mall wasn’t as busy as the past couple of days. The children went back to school after winter break and therefore there were less kids in the hula play area. We did have quite a few toddlers and children who weren’t quite old enough for school so we  had to be creative with our hoop lessons.

We resorted to rolling the hoop, teaching them to hold it and dance and putting hoops on the ground to play hopscotch. Gabbi and I had more time to jam out and catch some much needed spin time of our own since the influx of children wasn’t so major.

But, before the somewhat slow night of work, we traveled about 10 minutes from our hotel to the famous Dubai Gold Souk. A souk is a marketplace that sells textiles, food, electronics, jewelry and trinkets. It reminded me of Chinatown in New York in a sense. We weren’t looking for anything particular. We just wanted to see the old architecture in a part of Dubai that isn’t as glamourous as the skyscraper polluted downtown that hogs the press.

But, our journey there started with a rude taxi driver. We got into the cab and right after we told him where we wanted to go, he made up some nonsense about the road being blocked and dropped us off 50 feet away from our hotel. He said he couldn’t take us. We then flagged down another cab and asked him if the road block would be a problem.

“No problem. The other driver just wanted a further trip for more money,” he said.

When we got to the souk, my eyes were overwhelmed. I have trouble shopping in a simple clothing store and didn’t know how I would even begin to shop there.  As we made our way into the entrance we were bombarded by man after man asking us if we wanted Gucci, Prada or Chanel handbags. After saying “no thank you” a dozen times, I realized it was best to just ignore them, not make eye contact and press on. We had a brilliant idea that if we were to ever open a store in the market that we could make a killing by selling t-shirts reading, “No, I do not want a fake designer handbag. Don’t bother asking.”

If it wasn’t one of the fake bag men, it was a scarf man. One came behind me and wrapped the scarf around my neck trying to trap me until I bought it. I ducked away and Gabbi and I power-walked to a less harassing part of the market.

The back alleyways are what intrigued me the most. The men in their national dress, towing goods from the creek using something similar to wheelbarrow to their stores seemed like such a contrast to the sophisticated and modern malls where these wholesale items would eventually become resale at about four times the cost.

Although the handbag guys were annoying, I would encourage anyone who visits this city to put a trip to the souk on their list to see what Dubai was before all of the state-of-the-art architecture and westernized businesses. It definitely opened up my perspective and made me feel like I was in a different country not just another metropolitan city like Miami.

Until tomorrow folks!

Day 2: Hooping has no language barrier

5 Jan

I woke up this morning still quite jet-lagged, my body not feeling quite up to par. But, after eating some breakfast I was determined to see at least one Dubai landmark before I headed to the Marina mall to somehow gather the energy to hula hoop for 6 hours.

The girls and I headed to Dubai Mall to see the aquarium. Once you’ve seen one aquarium, you’ve seen it all, but I think the marvel of this one is that it was inside a mall, along with an ice rink. I hear there is a ski slope in one of the other malls, but I don’t think this one was it. I can’t be to sure though because the scale of the facility is so big, it would probably take days to walk around.

After walking around one percent of this thing the Emirates call a “mall” (I would maybe call it a city), I didn’t feel as if I would even have the energy to stand up, much less hoop for hours. But, when I got to work my whole attitude changed.

Within 5 minutes of getting to the promenade to start the hula play area a little girl came up to me with a letter. I recognized her from the day before.

“I love you, you are pretty. From Maitane,” read the letter written on pink Barbie stationary. She gave Gabbi one as well.

I can honestly say that if it weren’t for that letter I would have had a hard time finding the enthusiasm my job calls for. Thank you Maitane.

But, as the night progressed I learned two things that made me realize why a simple toy like a hula hoop can be so magical for mind, body, and spirit. The first is that hula hooping has no language barrier. I met children and adults from Madrid, Germany, India and various other parts of the world, some who didn’t speak English. But, what I learned is that the universal symbols of a nod and a shake of the head can go a long way in a hula hoop lesson. Since it is a sport that is easy to mimic, showing is all you need, no talking is necessary to generate a genuine smile.

The second thing I realized is that in the age of technology, where three year olds have iPads and parents are quick to let their children play video games for distraction, a hula hoop is one of the timeless toys that is still entertaining and physical.

In fact, when the hoops were taken away from the children at the end of the night, I saw the same reaction as if they had been grounded from TV for a week. Amazing. As a 90s kid who was forced to play outside, build forts and commence with neighborhood friends at playgrounds, it always saddens me when a parent tries to distract their kid with a mindless game. Hula hoops give hope to the digital generation.

Once again it is late, but I will end with some new words I have learned after hanging out with a staff from literally all over the world (Scotland, London, Australia, Sweden,  and Egypt).

1. Trainers- sneakers/tennis shoes

2. Boot- trunk of a car

3. leafeys- flyers

4. lift- elevator

That is all I can think of right now. Stay tuned for Day 3!


Dubai’s first hooping festival: Hoop-la Dubai

4 Jan

Hello loyal followers,

I know I have not posted in a while due to the chaos that is called the holidays. I have been living out of my car, people’s couches and in about 4 different cities over the past month, but I am far from complaining.

For the next twelve days I will be steering away from my normal health and science articles and sharing my experience working at Dubai’s first festival dedicated to hula hooping. That’s right, Dubai. For a girl who’s only adventure out of the country was an hour boat ride to the Bahamas, a trip to Dubai seemed almost impossible, until I saw an awesome opportunity on Facebook.

About three weeks ago, I read a post that was asking for two people who were passionate about hula hooping to travel to Dubai to help with the festival (mainly helping people who wanted to learn.) The job was unpaid, but the trip was all expenses paid. I had to go for it. After sending the email, writing a brief description about why I love hula hooping, and sending a photo, I heard back from Stuart at Dolphin Creative (the company organizing the event) saying I was chosen and I would have my flight details shortly.

Wow. That email came fast! I didn’t know whether to be excited or scared. My journalist cynicism kicked in and I worried that it was all a scam. After doing multiple google searches, I found out to the best of my knowledge that it was legitimate and decided to take a risk. I went for it, but the knots in my stomach from nervousness wouldn’t cease.

After a 22-hour day of traveling, with a layover in Germany (yay, two countries in one trip!) I landed at the Dubai airport, not knowing what to expect. Then came the passport line. I waited an hour and a half only to have my passport refused.

“It’s not going through the machine,” the man working the counter said. “Go to office number one,” he said.

I walked hesitantly to the office and handed another man my passport.

“Where are you staying?”  he asked.

Uh oh. Andy, another organizer of the event hadn’t told me the name of the hotel yet, mainly because the agency booking our flight and hotel was so last minute, what I’ve learned is a common trait in Dubai.

“Um. . . I’m not sure, someone is picking me up and taking me to my hotel,” I said.

After one more look over, he handed back my passport and let me proceed to baggage claim.

After I gathered my luggage, I went outside and started reading what seemed like a hundred name cards. None said Rebecca Burton. Once again, panic set in. But, after looking back inside I saw Andy, and recognized him vaguely from Facebook. We introduced ourselves, he handed me spending money and took Gabbi, the other hula helper and me in a cab to our hotel in Bur Dubai.

The first day of the festival was cancelled, which gave the performers (Lisa Lottie and Polly Macfarlane) and the hula helpers some time to get to know each other. We toured Dubai Marina Mall where we would be working, and then went to a bar in the middle of the water on Jumeirah Beach to watch the sunset.

Now that I have written probably way too much background info, we come to the first day of the festival. My eyes are closing as I am writing this, so my future posts will give a bit more detail.

But, the first day exceeded my expectations. Men, women and children of all nationalities and ages picked up hoops and were immediately inspired. Some, stayed for hours at a time, asking where to buy one. I know how hooping changed my life, and have always tried to show others how it can help their minds, bodies and spirits. I am truly blessed to have been able to spread the hoop love to a country  that perhaps has not had as much exposure as the  U.S.

Although my feet are aching and I am in desperate need of a shower, I am ready  to go back tomorrow and leave an impression on the Marina Mall patrons. Sorry for any typos/bad grammar/sloppy writing. It’s late, and I’m exhausted but I just had to share! Stay tuned for more stories of my journey, written more like a journalist.

Six word memoirs: Reflection

2 Oct

While this blog is mainly to share science, health or any other articles I write, it is also to share the journey of a struggling journalist. When I say “struggling” I don’t necessarily mean it in a negative way. The struggles I’ve faced have helped shape my life and get me to where I am today, and I can’t complain about the present.

To write was always my first passion, and since 75 percent of the birthday presents I ever received were journals, I took a hint and kept doing it. My reason for writing has changed somewhat. I used to write for myself and would only do so to reflect, put things in perspective and to organize my life in my mind.

Now, since I’ve gone through J-school I see journalism as storytelling for the public good.

As I was reading one of my journals (the one I kept the summer before I moved to Miami) I came across a page titled “Six Word Memoirs.” I remember writing that after seeing a book by the same name, where authors and celebrities were asked to write about themselves in six words. I decided to post the ones I wrote when I was 18, naive and a beach bum in Pensacola.

18-year old memoirs:


Will break curse by strong ambition.

There is no being too nice.

Restlessness will cause a fulfilling life.

The black sheep always breaks away.

Never judged, just refused to be.

She lived practically to be independent.

Change is good unless to conform.

Never was satisfied with stagnant surroundings.

While some of these may only make sense to me, the only one I would change is the one about being too nice. But then again, that’s a different story. I encourage any writer, journalist or even recent graduate who is undergoing a huge change in your life to try to write a few. They don’t have to be biographical. Use them to reflect, state life goals or even just for a writing exercise. You may be surprised at what you come up with.

Coming soon: 23-year-old memoirs.

Me…. on International TV!?! Hula Hooping pays the bills

25 Jul

South Florida hoopers appear on international TV:

(my recollection, in as few words as possible)

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A few months ago while I was finishing up my internship in Washington, D.C. I had a near anxiety attack thinking about how I was going to pay my bills and whether or not graduate school was a feasible financial option for me at this stage in my life, especially with undergraduate loans haunting me.

I picked up my hula-hoop, aka my zen circle and began using it as a de-stressor as I always do. I heard a notification sound come from my iPhone, it was a Facebook message from someone I didn’t really know. Christine Karaki, from the Miami Hoop Machine, was asking for 6 “sexy hoopers” to perform on a Spanish awards show to appear on Univision, and it paid.

Check out Christine’s blog post about the show here.

Continue reading

Every reporter needs a vacation

24 Jul

A vacation for me has always been a day at the beach, or lately half a day off of work. But earlier this summer, I was given the opportunity to leave the country for the first time ever.

Well, to the Bahamas anyway and by Bahamas I mean about 50 miles east of Miami to the Island of Bimini. To me, it was a big deal. Continue reading