Joshua Phelps, Features Editor

During a series of Mental Illness Awareness Week events that took place last week at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, a photography major and Artist Anonymous president held an event of her own and encouraged others to hula hoop with her.

“Hula hooping has saved my life,” said Dee Drenning, a senior and a Navy veteran of nearly 10 years.

Drenning held an event on the patio of the Millennial Student Center Oct. 7 encouraging students to hula hoop and had coloring books for students to destress during midterms. 

“A lot of people like to use coloring as a coping mechanism and to relax,” said Kayla Brown, an art major and transfer student. Brown was monitoring the booth with Drenning during the event.

With hula hoops being the main draw for the event, Drenning said she took up the hobby in 2014, one-year after she was sexually assaulted while serving as a translator and linguist for the Navy. 

“When I was in the military, I experienced sexual assault, and on the one-year anniversary of that, I decided to switch it up and take a bad memory and change it with a good memory,” Drenning said. “A week out, I bought a hula hoop and started learning how to hoop.”

Drenning mentioned seeing other women at festivals with hula hoops and said it would be a good hobby to pick up. 

“As an outlet, I needed that,” she said. Drenning added on top of the sexual assault, she was going through a bad relationship and didn’t know if she’d “make it out alive.” 

“With [hula] hooping, I met so many people that were encouraging me and kept me going,” Drenning said. “It gave me something to look forward to when I got home every day.”

“It kind of helped me identify who I am and what I wanted in life, and not to take crap from anybody or anything,” she added.

Now out of the military and living in St. Louis, Drenning said her hobby helps make her money and helps her get out there and link up with other people. “I’m working with all kinds of students and people in the community,” she said.

On top of being a student and Artist Anonymous president, Drenning also owns her own hula hoop business, Vodu Hoops, and teaches burlesque classes at the Saint Louis School of Burlesque and Variety.

“I wasn’t an artist before, I was a linguist and translator. Getting into this while I’m in school here has been really life changing and interesting,” Drenning said.

Artist Anonymous will be showing a movie at the Gallery 210 Oct. 17 and Oct. 18. The building is located next to the Metrolink station. The event is open to all students. For more information regarding times, message Artists Anonymous on Instagram at https://instagram.com/artistsanonymousstl/.

Additionally, the group will be hosting their semi-annual exhibition reception at the Express Scripts building Oct. 18 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

Readers can follow Drenning at https://instagram.com/hoopsiedee