Tag Archives: hoop-la dubai

Dubai’s first hooping festival: Hoop-la Dubai

16 Dec

Editor’s note: Since it has been almost a year since my Dubai adventure, and because the holidays can involve a ton of traveling, I’ve decided to repost an entry I wrote last year. This post was written on my first day in Dubai. Having never traveled out of the country besides the Bahamas, this was a big deal. A little break from health/science and  little look into my hula hooping life. Enjoy!

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.

Part 2:

Hooping has no language barrier

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Days 7 & 8: Desert hooping, camels and dune bashing

11 Jan

My trip to Dubai wouldn’t have been complete without a camel ride, sand boarding and hula hooping in the desert, so I just had to splurge and spend the 250 dirhams on a desert safari. It was more than worth the money and a truly surreal experience.

Our morning started out at the crack of dawn yesterday. After gobbling down some breakfast, Gabbi and I headed down to the lobby. Someone from the desert safari was supposed to pick us up between 7:30 and 8 a.m. from our hotel, but I was more than skeptical after the phone call I had with the company at the time of booking.

The man had a heavy accent on the phone, and sounded like he was driving as he was taking down my information. After asking my name, hotel, room number and how many people, he told me what time he would be there and quickly hung up the phone. I guess since I am so used to the formality in the U.S., the fact that he didn’t even ask for a credit card number frightened me.

But, sticking to his word, a dark heavy-set man walked into the hotel lobby at around 7:45 a.m. He walked right up to me.

“Are you Rebecca Burton?” the man, who we later found out was named Victor, asked.

“Yes,” I said.

Without one more word he signaled us to follow him and we all walked quickly to the 4×4 Jeep that is used for dune bashing.

Victor informed us that the other two people who were supposed to join us on the trip had cancelled last minute. So we surprisingly got a VIP safari.

After driving for about 30 minutes, we stopped at a gas station. Victor walked in and came out 5 minutes later with some waters, orange juices and sandwiches for us to eat.

He then drove about 15 minutes more, and without warning simply drove off the road and into the seemingly never-ending dunes. After passing the UAE military base we drove another 10 minutes or so until we saw one man, dressed in traditional desert wear, standing with a single camel.

“Now, it is time for the camel ride,” Victor said. “After that, I will take you where we can sand board.”

Victor took some pictures and short video of us mounting the camel with my phone and his iPad and then got back in the jeep and drove ahead as we were guided on the camel.

The serenity was indescribable. The man who was guiding us did not speak English, so not a word was said. The only sound was the sand blowing from the gustier-than-normal wind that day. The desert did not have cacti, but rather little melons the size of apples scattered about the horizon. We saw other camels, which looked a great deal skinner than the one we were riding, wandering the dunes.

After about a 30-minute peaceful ride, we got back in the jeep and headed out even further to the “real desert” as Victor described it. The dunes were bigger, and the land seemed even more deserted without a tire track in sight.

“The dunes were facing the other way yesterday,” Victor said. “They are always changing.”

For some reason, this thought really stuck with me, and I began to ponder deeper meaning as we continued on.

Next came the sand boarding. A sand board looks just like a wakeboard or snowboard, and the premise is pretty self explanatory. You stand up and glide down the dunes. I succeeded my first try, but after the first walk back up the dunes, I was finished and completely out of breath. Walking up a desert sand dune is a great way to lose 10 pounds. Victor asked if I wanted to go again.

“I would, but that walk back up killed me,” I said.

“No problem, I will drive down and get you and bring you back up,” he said.

Awesome, I thought. I gave it a few more tries. An admitted adrenaline junkie, I like anything that involves motion and boards.

But, my usual love of motion became motion sickness during the dune bashing. Victor really knew how to manage to drive the jeep really fast up and down the countless dunes without getting stuck or flipping. But, my stomach didn’t manage.

Note to self: dune bash on an empty stomach next time.

Nonetheless the safari was everything I would’ve wanted and worth the money. Victor stopped at another high dune to take pictures. Gabbi pulled out her hoop so he could take pictures of us hooping. The photos came out great, and he said he wanted to feature us on the company’s website. We graciously agreed. He told us this was the first time anyone had ever brought a hula hoop on the trip.

On the way home we all made small talk, and Victor told us horror stories of getting stuck, flips and deaths that happened from time to time in his 14 years with the company.

“One time I got stuck and when I tried to dig out the sand, my whole arm was burned,” he said, referring to the summer months when the desert reaches about 140 degrees.

To my surprise, I learned that the roll bars had only been installed in the jeeps two years ago due to several deaths. You would think they would’ve thought of that solution a bit earlier.

At the end of the day I had an unforgettable experience and never would’ve guessed two months ago that a desert safari was anywhere in my near future.

Last night at work was quite busy since Thursday is the start of the weekend there. I really think hula hooping is catching on here. I recognize more faces than not and have had more than 20 people ask about lessons. Goal achieved, except for finding someone who teaches classes here.

After the busy night, Lenny, Andy, Gabbi and I went out for a couple drinks at a beach club called Baraciti. With booming house music, and outdoor beds lining the beach, it reminded me of Club Bed in Miami. We all sipped on cocktails, smoked sheesha and compared and contrasted the different countries we are all from. It is really an eye-opening experience to hang out and have true conversations with people who live on the other side of the world. Sometimes, I feel Americans are isolated on this continent.

Andy said he would love to hire Americans for more festivals, but the work visas are too hard to obtain.

Today’s hula play area was just as crowded as yesterday and went smoothly even though Lenny wasn’t there to work the lights and sound. I stepped in and with Andy guiding me on the phone, I somehow managed to get them working. I would write about today in more detail but this post is already far too long and I have to be up in just a few hours to tour the world’s tallest building and be the first person to hoop there! Until tomorrow (my last day in Dubai!)

Or the next day, I have to catch my plane home right after work.

Night folks.

 

Days 5 & 6: Learning about Arab culture from a former rockstar

9 Jan

After a couple of cocktails at the first bar that seems to put alcohol in their drinks in Dubai, I was too tired to write last night. But, here is a recap of day 5 of my Dubai adventure.

Before work yesterday, Gabbi and I went to a restaurant in the Bur Dubai souk called Bait al Wakeel. Her tour Dubai book recommended it because it is one of Dubai’s oldest buildings and is located along the creek. The view was beautiful and really gave a feel of old Dubai, similar to the Gold Souk we visited before. Wooden water taxis glided across the water packed with people sitting shoulder to shoulder.

Although the food was no better than mediocre, simply sitting along the creek was a nice change from being at a mall for 6 hours a day. Work was steady, and once again I saw genuine interest from many in the art of hula hooping, including two British women about my age who picked it up quickly in 6 inch heels.

After work the whole crew got burgers and then Gabbi and I went with Lenny, the sound guy, to his favorite bar. Although alcohol is illegal in Dubai, there are loopholes with bars in hotels and club compounds, and they are able to serve it. The bar was called Trader Vic’s and mimicked an island tiki bar with rum-based cocktails. And, unlike the posh bar we went to the first day on Jumeirah beach, these bartenders were generous with the alcohol. This also could have been because Lenny was a regular and everyone knew him on a first name basis.

After chatting with Lenny for a bit, I learned that he used to be a band member in the biggest rock band in the Middle East, Juliana Down. But, after signing with Sony in the U.S., who wanted the band to use backup tracks, Lenny quit the band in the spirit of keeping real rock and roll alive. I felt honored to be hanging out with someone who followed his passion of alternative music, even after growing up in such a conservative place. I later googled his band and discovered that they were written about multiple times in Rolling Stone. Maybe I should’ve gotten an autograph!

But, as we sat there talking loud over live traditional Spanish music, Lenny was answering any questions we had about the Arab culture. To my surprise, women in the bar were dressed like they were going to a club in Miami, tight dresses and skyscraper heels. He explained to us that in bars, the rules of covering your shoulders and knees don’t really apply. If you swear at anyone, or give them the finger though, you could easily go to jail. Holding a man’s hand or dancing with him in the parking lot could also result in jail time if you’re caught.

But, the most interesting and surprising fact I learned on this night out was that here in Dubai, a camel’s life is worth more than a human’s. While a human’s life is monetarily worth about 200,000 dirhams, a camel’s is worth 800,000 dirhams. Weird.

Funny how bar chats can become educational experiences.

Today, after sleeping in past breakfast I went to the China Mart with Madgy, another hula helper who has appeared on Arab’s Got Talent and teaches acrobatics in Cairo, Egypt. China Mart is a big warehouse filled with stores that sell merchandise made in China. I bought a cheesy souvenir snow globe and a case for my phone at only 5 bucks. But, the stuff made in China was anything you could think of, including fake iPods and iPads.

At work tonight I had another repeat visitor, a little girl about 5 years old who was brought to the play area by her nanny. She followed me around, constantly asking to do the routine I taught her yesterday. She then ditched the hoop and just started dancing and saying she wanted to be just like me. It feels good to be a role model and really touched me for her to say that. But, enough with all the mushy stuff, I have to get to sleep stat for my desert safari at the crack of dawn tomorrow! Stay tuned for pictures of sand, camels and the like!

 

 

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, Hooping.org 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.