Martika Daniels: “The Human Body is Capable of Amazing Things”

Wanderlust hooping instructor Martika Daniels shares what life is like on the road as a one woman show.

Martika Daniels is the hooping instructor for this year’s Wanderlust 108. For more information, including lineup, locations, and tickets, click here. 

Martika Daniels is a woman of beauty, fervor, heart, and soul. A one-woman sideshow performer, Martika’s many talents range from hula hooping to sword swallowing. She began instructing hooping classes at the Wanderlust events after a 108 came to her hometown in Kansas City, Missouri.

“I’ve fallen in love with the Wanderlust festival experience,” Martika says. The best part of teaching, she adds, is seeing people explore skills they never knew they had. “People that have never touched a hula hoop or have hardly tried get to walk away with a new skill. Different backgrounds come together to share space, challenge themselves through the activities, grow with mindfulness, and so many people walk away amazed at what they are truly capable of. To be a part of planting that seed of inspiration in so many people means more than words can describe.”

Daniels first became interested in hula hooping in 2009, after attending a music and arts festival.

I’ve always had an obsession with circus arts and traveling sideshows,” She tells me. “Watching these performance artists dancing in ways I’d never seen before… I was completely enchanted.” She began speaking with performance artists about their work and enrolled in a workshop taught by internationally renowned performer Luna Breeze. There she learned her first hooping tricks and had a strong foundation to build a practice on her own.

“I had already been dancing for years,” says Daniels. “It was wonderful to add [an element] to a hobby I was already passionate about.”

Six months after she began studying hula hooping, Daniels expanded her interest to other sideshow arts. “I wanted to keep challenging myself and see what else I was capable of,” She shares. The first stunts she learned were fire eating and walking on glass.

“The human body is capable of amazing things,” she says with a smile. And after witnessing her talents, it’s hard to argue.

Wanderlusting While She Works

Martika has since began touring as a one-woman stunt show. And it’s not just the stunts that distinguish Martika as a wonder woman. She’s also her own teacher,  sound technician, roadie, and stage manager. Considering the extensive business and office duties it takes to run a one-woman act, the hours are long and sleep is sparse.

“Sometimes I drive 12 plus hours to a venue to perform multiple hour-long shows throughout the day. Then I’ll sleep a few hours wake up early in the morning to drive another 12 or sometimes 18 more hours to perform or teach again,” Martika reveals. But the intense schedule is a small price to pay for the joy of spreading her art to awestruck audiences. “The fun part about being a one woman stunt show is being able to keep the history of the dying American art form of sideshow danger stunts going. Lots of people know about circus arts but forget the sideshow style of entertainment that is such a rich part of our history.”

As one of just three actively performing female sword swallowers of color in America, Martika is a role model for numerous aspiring young girls.

“I love being able to travel and show young woman that we are just as strong, capable, and indestructible,” She says. “That [girls] are capable of doing whatever they put their minds to.”

A Practice for Life On the Road

Because of her busy schedule and physically strenuous practice, Martika fosters mindfulness practices and rituals to give her grounding. Simplicity for life on the road is essential, so her rituals are accessible, and easy to maintain.

“I always start my day with a cup of tea. Before I start any work or eat breakfast I take a moment to clear my mind from yesterday’s stress and from the hectic day that is about to being. I let myself have a moment of stillness to prepare for the day,” Martika says. She then writes out a list of tasks to complete, to keep her thoughts organized and in order. Next is exercise. Martika practices yoga, pilates, cycling, and kickboxing to keep her body strong. Gaining mental and physical stability before sitting down and doing office work is a great way to retain clarity.

Martika is also constantly challenging herself, and practices her craft every day. Skills such as sword swallowing can be lost without consistent practice, she tells me. It requires a great deal of mental concentration and physically intensive skill. When traveling, Martika says, “I will even sword swallow at a gas station to keep my skill sets on par.”

Since she started touring and traveling worldwide, Martika has fostered a “be here now mentality” and continually reminds herself to “enjoy being present in the moment.” Traveling as a performer can be exhausting, as she may only be in a certain country or state for a short period of time. For Martika, and all of us, really, mindfulness practices help to rekindle a sense of gratitude and foundation when time seems to be slipping away.

“Traveling has really shaped my ability to accept, particularly in terms of different lifestyles and cultures I may not fully understand,” She shares. Martika acknowledges that we all have a lot to learn from cultures different than our own. We all share the same basic needs. We all have more in common than we realize. When we find ourselves pushing something away because it is not familiar to us, Martika reminds us to “give space for that lack of understanding as room to learn something new.”

This mantra can be applied to all that Martika does. The fear of the unknown inhibits our exploration of ourselves and our world. Trusting in oneself to go beyond what we think we know is liberating, and magical. Humanity really is capable of incredible things if we lead with openness and heart.

Jillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga