Hansen: Groups mirror our weirdness

Never before has it been so easy to assemble chanters, magical women, goddesses or white hot habibis.

They are real, and they are Laguna Beach's famous Meetup groups.

Perhaps not surprising, Laguna — with its large number of artistic and alternative residents — has an eclectic list of niche groups. Basically, if you can imagine it, there's a group for it:

•Women's Circle of Sacred Community of Southern California

•Self Awareness Institute

•Laguna Beach Frenchies!

There are many, many more.

By comparison, some of the more popular groups in the Inland Empire are "Lazy Ass Hiking," "Housewives of Eastvale" and "Sexy Female Riders!"

I'm not making this up.

Laguna is definitely more esoteric.

While we have a fair number of new mom groups and happy hour partiers, there are more than 40 Meetup groups based in Laguna that cross all interests: gardening, fitness, beach volleyball, classical music, belly dancing, Italian, architecture.

Almost half of the groups are some variation of religion, spirituality, mysticism or enhanced awareness.

"The spirit of an artistic community is so different — just because it's on the right side of the brain for one thing," said Jeannine Marie Luke, who organizes two groups, the Laguna Beach Raw Food Potluck group and the Laguna Beach Art Studio Events.

"So it's a creative mind. It's a curiosity. It's doing things differently," she said. "I don't think I would be as successful if I were in Corona or Irvine. There's something about Laguna Beach that has just a creative, happy, open-minded vibe about it that seems to attract a lot of people, even if it's just for a break."

Luke said the art group draws from all over Orange County while the food group tends to be more local.

"There are a lot of people who come from outside of Laguna because they want that Laguna Beach feeling," she said. "Outside of Laguna Beach there are a lot of people that just want a taste of it or a break from their regular Orange County lifestyle."

When a Meetup group invades a public place, you can usually tell, especially when there are more than two dozen French Bulldogs running around the small dog section of the Laguna Dog Park.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the park was inundated with "Frenchies," the floppy-eared bulldogs once used for bull-baiting. Owners take enormous pride in their dogs, even creating special websites and daily blogs — as if they were written by the dogs. Twofrenchbulldogs.com follows the antics of Benny and Lily.

"We're Frenchies, the cute ones with the big ears and squished and smooshy faces," the dogs write. "In order to keep us out of trouble, we decided a blog was in order."

Organizer Cathy Newby said the group meets monthly and is the fourth largest group in Laguna with 230 members from throughout the county.

So what is the Laguna group with the most members?

Girlfriend Time with 545 members. They take their girl time seriously, too — no guys allowed.

Another active group is the Orange County Kirtan with 212 "chanters."

Some of my favorites are:

•Goddesses of Peace International

•The Laguna Compost Klatsch

•United States Civil Defense Assn. Prepardeness Training

•Advanced Awareness Path to Happiness

•Laguna Laughter Club

Let's face it, the Meetup phenomenon is a mirror into our collective weirdness. Where else can we have goddesses and laughter yoga and composting workshops — all on a Saturday afternoon?

Where else can we go into the homes of strangers, bring raw food and speak Italian or chant in Sanskrit during dessert?

We have reached the point when all things can become real, when thought becomes reality with a simple Meetup group.

Thankfully, there is dancing at this revolution — lots of it: belly dancing, swing, salsa, rhythms dancing, fitness dancing, ballroom, French kiss upscale dancing, disco, Christian dancing, Jewish dancing, masquerade dancing.

I wonder where non-group people go to have fun, though?

The Non-Group Group, of course.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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