Although she sat perched in a plush armchair inside the Student Union Building on a sprawling university campus, she was not a student, at least, not anymore.
Dissatisfied with her classes and scheduling, she ceased her academic studies to pursue an education in something a little less orthodox. She decided to swap her textbooks for aerial silks and her student ID for a hula hoop.
Maiya Champion was a dreamer.
Drop out or burn out
“I attended MTSU for five semesters and I changed my major three times in the (almost) three years I was there,” Champion said with a smile and a roll of her eyes.
The 20-year-old had an inherent liveliness about her, even when sitting. The soft green eyeshadow she had selected that day popped against her dark complexion, and tight, black curls formed a lively frame around her sharp face.
“I started hooping when I went to Canada after my senior year (of high school),” Champion explained. “I met some girls at a festival who had like giant PVC pipe hoops and they taught me how to do one trick. I came home that summer and started (hooping), but then school kind of got in the way.”
Hooping, also called hoop dancing, refers to the artistic manipulation of, or dancing with, one or multiple hula hoops. Like dance, hooping is unique to the individual, and can be accompanied by music or performed as a visual art form only. Something old made new again, hooping is a piece of childhood revived and given new purpose.
“When I first came to MTSU I was told there was a (hooping) group, and I searched every Thursday of my freshman year for them and I never found said group,” Maiya said with a laugh.
The newfound passion inspired Champion, but also came with its own frustrations. Her schedule at MTSU, while freer than any academic schedule she’d experienced to date, was still keeping her from what she wanted to do, causing her to view school more as a hindrance than a help.
“I was just always really stressed out, and I wanted to do so much with hooping,” Champion said, a look of irritation crossing her face as she recalled the start of her collegiate experience. “I would see people who were six months into hooping doing (all these tricks) and I thought, if I had more time, that’s what I would be doing.”
In the fall of 2014, she decided it was worth every moment.
“I’ve always been very active and I did gymnastics when I was little, but I never competed,” Champion said. “Jungle Gyms were my thing when I was a kid. It was so natural for me to be like, ‘Okay, I’m just gonna climb on this thing and figure it out.'”
Ultimately the decision to terminate enrollment was hers, but Champion wanted to include her family as much as possible, even if it meant simply making them aware of the path she had decided to take.
“I told them I wanted to be an acrobat,” Champion said simply. “And they said ‘Okay, well you were always active and doing flips in the front yard, so we can honestly see you doing that.'”
The acrobat-to-be was thrilled with the newfound support from her family. She recounted how her older sister, Kiara, flew through her schooling, having been the valedictorian of her high school and obtaining a bachelor’s degree with a double major in the time it takes most to complete one.
“My sister is like the good honors student,” she said with a wry smile. “I was the one who was smart just to be smart.”
Her eyes were on the ground but a small smile tugged at one corner of her mouth.
The fight for self-expression
Although Champion isn’t enrolled in a traditional school, she still attends class. Like any other profession, acrobatics requires a demanding regimen of training. Additionally, performers have to find creative ways of marketing themselves, either through professional profiles or Vimeo accounts that showcase their talents.
“It’s a lot of just putting yourself out there,” she said. “It’s just doing it.”
Despite the tall order, Mayia is confident. She went on to talk about how welcoming a practice hooping is. According to Champion, “everyone can pick up a ten dollar hula hoop from Walmart” and take to the art form.
“It’s really inviting and everyone can do it,” she said.
But for Champion, hooping has become more than just a hobby or one of many talents she hopes to put on display for an adoring crowd. For Champion, it’s an art form, and more importantly a mode of self-expression.
“I can’t imagine living without being able to express myself,” she said. “I’ve tried pretty much everything to try and express myself and I’ve never found anything as close and as qualified for myself as hooping.”
Follow Meagan White on Twitter at @MeaganWhite328