By Jonathan Spiers
When Santia Nance finished college in 2010, she found her life outside of work spinning in circles.
So, naturally, she picked up a hula hoop.
After googling “hooping” and taking a local class, the VCU grad, now a media planner at local ad giant The Martin Agency, found a pastime and passion she’s pursued ever since.
Recently promoted to media planning supervisor, Nance’s workdays are spent in the thick of Richmond’s biggest creative shop, strategizing media placements for ad campaigns for clients such as Land O’Lakes and pudding maker Kozy Shack.
But while her job is in the heart of the creative think tank, Nance said her own creativity comes out when she’s hooping.
“It’s like yoga in a way: it makes you feel at peace, it makes you feel yourself,” she said. “It makes you feel happy, because it’s so nostalgic, and you’re focused on something else versus thinking about other things. You’re just in your zone.”
Active with local hoop group RVA Hoop House, Nance can be spotted spinning hoops around town in group sessions and events such as Inlight Richmond, when she’s encircled with LED-illuminated hoops. She’s performed in theater showcases and in a burlesque show at Gallery5, often under her stage name, Santobella Spark. She’s even picked up fire hooping, spinning a circle of flames to the point that they make a whooshing sound.
“When you’re fire-hooping, you hear it. The rush is to hear it,” she said. “It’s hot!”
A Hampton native, Nance first picked up on hooping in high school, motivated in part by an unlikely source: Hilary Duff as Lizzie McGuire.
“For some reason I was obsessed with the Disney Channel in high school. (Duff) did this thing where she was a rhythmic gymnastics person or something, and she threw the hula hoop in the air, did a cartwheel and then caught it. I was like, ‘I’m going to do that!’”
After graduating from VCU with a degree in creative advertising, Nance revisited the activity when she found herself idle outside of a part-time job with Radio Disney.
“I was real bored. I didn’t have a job really. I was like, ‘What do I do?’” Nance said.
“In 2010, I just made it up in my head that this has to be a thing, so I googled it. That’s when I found my hoop mama, Stacey Firefly,” she said. “She’s one of the originators in Richmond who was hula hooping.”
Nance signed up for one of her now-mentor’s classes at Dogtown Dance Theatre, and she’s been hooping ever since.
“It was Oct. 13, 2010 – my hoopiversary. That’s a real thing,” she said, laughing.
When she’s not spinning her hoops or dancing in circles of flames, Nance said she’s found joy in her work at The Martin Agency since joining the firm in 2013, specifically planning digital media placements for campaigns.
“We have to figure out where the best place is to put the advertising,” she said. “Not necessarily just thinking about is it on TV or a magazine or a website; it’s usually which website, which TV show, which time, what makes the most sense and what’s the cheapest and what’s going to actually get people to do what you want them to do. A lot goes into that thinking.”
Focused on strategy at work, Nance said she releases her creative side out of the office in her performances, which she choreographs herself.
“I try really hard to come up with something unique for each event,” she said.
And when she’s not performing onstage as Santobella Spark, Nance said she helps “spread the hoop love” in group hooping sessions and community outreach events, helping first-timers pick it up and pinpoint difficulties.
Laughing, she said: “People call me the hoop whisperer.”