You can’t convince Jesse Patterson the hula hoop was just a fad from the 1950s. For the Ursuline senior, the giant plastic rings offer an outlet for artistic expression and the possibility for an equally throwback career path in a professional traveling circus.
Patterson already has proven herself as one of the top young hula hoop performers in the country, traveling to camps and shows when her schedule allows, including the Worldwide Circus Summit this summer in Massachusetts.
It’s something she picked up when she was a student at Dallas International School, which runs an after-school circus program among its extracurricular activities.
“I was a really shy kid, and this was the only thing I could really express myself in,” Patterson said. “I felt more confident hula hooping than I did raising my hand in class. I found that I’m good at it.”
That might be an understatement, considering the finale to Patterson’s routine is a stunt that involves 40 hoops.
“Her technique and her artistry is quite extraordinary,” said Fanny Kerwich, artistic director for Lone Star Circus, which operates the after-school program at DIS. “She’s one of the most unique and talented students I’ve had. When she comes on stage to do her act, everybody falls in love with her. She has that grace and is going to be very special.”
At first, Patterson wanted to be an aerialist either in trapeze or tight-wire. She still wants to pursue those, but her focus changed after she watched a hula-hoop act during a Cirque du Soleil show as a youngster.
“I fell in love with it and went home and started trying all the tricks you can do,” said Patterson, who trains for 3 to 4 hours every day, generally alternating between acrobatics and hula work.
“I like being in the air,” she said. “Safety is our main priority when training. If you know what you’re doing, then it’s not as dangerous as it looks.”
Patterson still trains and performs as part of Lone Star Circus, and even teaches some hula classes to beginners who aren’t much younger than her. She’s also done some festival shows with the American Youth Circus Organization as well as some private parties and variety shows.
In December, Patterson will be featured for the fourth time in the troupe’s holiday show at Dallas Theater Center, which features top students alongside professionals.
“The circus performers become a family,” Patterson said, “and I really enjoy that sense of community and camaraderie.”