When 25-year-old Ashley Jones hula-hoops on the campus lawn, in her mind, the world twirls around her body and students passing by, fade away.
“I know people are watching me and [they] find it interesting but, when I’m moving, I’m so far in my own little world,” said Jones.
This semester, Jones has been hula-hooping on the campus lawn with spare hoops on hold in her car in case other students wish to join her. “I’ve definitely met people who had no idea they could be into [hula-hooping] until they saw me doing it and we’re like ‘Wow, I’m really into that too’,” she said.
Last fall, Jones started “Wanderhoops”, a project where she used self-made and donated hula-hoops to teach children how to hula-hoop during events at Powers Park in Lansingburgh. “I loved watching them pick them up and figured things out on their own,” said Jones.
Her passion for hula-hooping was born in Albany’s rave scene about two years ago. After looking at performers at Spin Jam, an annual Albany event for rave performers, she went to Wal-Mart and bought hula-hoops with her friend. “We sucked. We could barely do anything but that’s where it started,” she said.
Over time, she learned new tricks from friends and Youtube tutorials while her time spent at raves gradually decreased. “It’s uppity music and you want to be in a peaceful, loving, respectful place with other people,” she said. As Jones noticed more depravity and heavy drug use at events, she started to fade away from the rave scene.
With limited space at her home in Lansingburgh, Jones often travels to Peebles Island State Park or the Grafton State Park Peace Pagoda to hula-hoop in her down time. She prefers to hula-hoop closer to nature, even when she’s on campus. Although Jones twirls her hula-hoop across campus she prefers to stay active in the quad between the Campus Center and McDonough because of the surrounding trees.
When students such as the pick-up football players, play in her area, despite being upset over losing space to twirl her hula-hoop, she welcomes physical activity around her on the campus green space. “I love watching adults having a playful time with each other,” she said.
Despite recently finding peace in hula-hooping, much of Jones’s past, she recalled, has been shrouded in darkness. Over the course of her childhood, her parents, who later divorced, fought frequently. Jones stayed reclusive during high school as a result of her dysfunctional family situation and left home immediately after turning 18-years-old.
“It made me very angsty and upset with the world. I didn’t understand why my family wasn’t a family,” she said. After high school, Jones said, she was underweight and frequently chain smoked. She spent five years between ten jobs before embracing a healthy lifestyle around 2013.
“Things before I didn’t really get engaged in and I really didn’t care so much about. I was just going to college just to go to college,” she said. Jones has been on and off the campus over the last seven years, often switching majors but believes she has finally discovered her niche in the new fitness specialist certificate program.
In the future, Jones hopes to use her certificate to teach others how to use hula-hooping to improve their health and wellness. “I can feel all of the good things that [hula-hooping] does to my brain so I love handing that off to other people,” said Jones.