Hackney People: Marawa the Amazing

How the world record-holding hula hooping Hackney resident went from being self-conscious to self-made

THE next world record attempt will involve running 10km, while simultaneously hoola hooping, Marawa The Amazing tells me. The current record-holder did it in one hour and 20 minutes, but she is unphased.

The Hackney resident already holds the record for the fastest mile running with a hoop: eight minutes. Oh, and she holds eight other hoola hoop related world records too.

In fact, the Dalston resident can call upon an impressive list of statistics. One of her world records is for spinning 200 hoops at once. She came third on ‘Arabs Got Talent’, and was a semi finalist in ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.

She was however, born in Melbourne, to a Somali father and an Australian mother, and spent her childhood shuttling between Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Middle East.

“It was great having a mix of cultures and religions around me. We travelled a lot and I went to international schools where you are exposed to even more cultures and traditions. The general attitude was so accepting of everyone’s differences. When I look back I feel really lucky to have been able to experience so much variety, but at the time it just felt really normal,” she says.

Despite this, Marawa was not a born performer. She reveals: “The only class I used to skip in high school was drama. I felt very self-conscious! But I loved movement and dance, and circus was all about that. At a certain point, I realised I would have to perform, but it didn’t feel scary because I didn’t have to talk, just do my routines. And now its totally fine, I don’t get nervous at all anymore.”

There is only one place in Australia where you can get a Bachelor’s degree in Circus Arts. The National Institute of Circus Arts Australia (NICA). The teenage Marawa auditioned, and failed to get in. So she re-auditioned, and this time was offered a place. She says: “It was the only degree that made sense to me.”

Marawa spent the next three years immersed in circus skills, specialising in the swinging trapeze. “I loved trapeze, but I also trained in hoops and came to realise they would be so much easier to travel with. I also liked the idea that I could be responsible for my own stuff, I could do it anywhere,” she says.

Through NICA, she found herself touring circus schools across China. She says: “The whole trip was insane, seeing eight year-old girls training for an Olympics that was taking place in eight years time.”

Then, she began travelling as a professional hoola hooper. She says: “I’ve now performed and taught in Nepal, New York, North Korea, Melbourne, Zagreb, Spain, Paris, Poland, Mexico, Somalia, LA... My favourite has to be North Korea. It was so crazy. The people had never seen anything like me, I had never seen anything like them, and we were all communicating through hoops, not words. It was so cool.”

In 2007, she came to London ‘with enough savings to last three months, and didn’t leave’. The first place she found was East London ‘and felt at home straight away’. With her sparkle and charm, you’d be forgiven for thinking Marawa’s act was somewhat frivolous. You’d be wrong, though. During the London riots, she was saddened to see the Hackney shops and off-licenses that were looted and wanted to help.

She says: “We went out to clean up, but it had all been done so efficiently by the Council that there was nothing left for us to do. So instead, I took all my hoops out and let the kids play with them. It was a really great day, a chance to feel like everything would be okay, after such a crazy week.”

The following year, she founded Marawa’s Majorettes: ‘a glittering team of adorable hoop performers’ who teach in schools. She also does community work in Gillett Square, and this June, she is releasing her first book.

‘The Girl Guide’ is an honest, hilarious and informative guide for girls going through puberty.

The stories are told in Marawa’s refreshingly frank voice, but she wrote it in consultation with adolescent medicine specialist, Dr Janice K Hillman. She says: “I pitched the book two years ago and then set about writing my experiences – and all the things I worked out along the way – as a kind of handbook to any girl wondering what on earth is going on with her body.

“Everyone’s experiences are different, but I hope the book will provide hope, and a chance to not feel like you are alone, weird or abnormal. I’ve been wanting to write it ever since I hit puberty.”

Back then, she was told she was too chubby to be a performer. Now, she is one of the world’s most popular and famous circus acts. If anyone can make girls feels empowered, it might well be her.