Nancy Fleischauer of Martinez leads an almost-every-week "Hoop and Flow Jam" hula-hoop session at Susana Park in Martinez on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019. (Photo by Sam Richards)

On a cool but clear Saturday afternoon near downtown Martinez, you wouldn’t have known there was a hula hoop renaissance going on. But Nancy Fleischauer and Shannon Grasso were there, doing basic hooping along with some trick moves.

There are generally at least five or six hoopers at Fleischauer’s weekly “Hoop and Flow Jam” gatherings at Susana Park, on the small concrete band shell platform. But the shift to Saturday (to avoid a predicted Sunday rainstorm) on the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s Day likely helped ensure low turnout.

But the two women proceeded to have fun, to do what they’ve come to love. Perhaps more people would join them in the next hour or so, they said.

“Whoever walks by gets sucked into the ‘hoop zone,’” said Fleischauer, who has been leading these informal hula-hoop sessions at this small neighborhood park since 2013 (Fleischauer said she once lived within sight of the park.) These hooping get-togethers happen almost every Sunday, weather permitting, at the park.

“Mainly we just enjoy ourselves, and encourage others to do the same,” Fleischauer said.

Fleischauer said she was first turned on to hooping at the 2001 Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert north of Reno. Naturally, the hula-hoopers there often used fire on their hoops, and Fleischauer did, too. After that, for a few years with a “fire performance group.”

She strives to keep these public sessions informal, stress-free and fun, but for Fleischauer it’s more than simply making a hula hoop go ’round. She is a student of the “flow arts,” movement-centered actions that often involve dance and hoops, staffs and other devices collectively called “flow toys.” It can be something like hula-hooping or juggling, or something far more elaborate.

“They use various props and toys to dance with and play with,” Fleischauer said. “There’s a lot of that to Cirque du Soleil.”

It’s also a good break, she said, from her day job as a computer programmer.

Grasso said she started hooping about 10 years ago. Watching tutorial videos on YouTube helped her learn tricks; on this Saturday, she was doing a routine balancing two small hoops.

“It’s a great community, and it’s a fun way to stay in shape,” said Grasso. “It’s a worldwide phenomenon; people go to summer camps for hoping. It’s amazing how it has resurged in the past few years.”

The Susana Park sessions have involved as many as 20 people, Fleischauer said, but her biggest groups have happened at the events including the Martinez Light Parade and Christmas Tree Lighting (with glowing hoops), area National Night Out gatherings and the Vallejo Mad Hatter Holiday Parade and Festival.

Those who come to Susana Park to hoop are generally looking for a release, an outlet for dancing, a creative way to get in a little workout.

Fleischauer brings several extra hoops with her each week, of various diameters, for people of various diameters.

“I’m a terrible dancer, but when I pick up (a hoop) like this, I’m a good dancer,” she said. “It just makes you think differently.”

More information about upcoming events can be found at the Bay Area Hoopers Facebook page.