PAMELA LEBLANC: FIT CITY
Hoop it up on World Hoop Day and every day
Austin hoopers embrace bigger, heavier hoops
By Pamela LeBlanc AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF Monday, August 04, 2008
Remember that Hula Hoop you had as a kid? It’s grown up and put on weight.
Hoops today are bigger, heavier and easier to swirl around your hips. And hoopsters aren’t just kids. They’re twentysomethings at music concerts, thirtysomethings meeting to groove to music and fortysomethings hooping it up for exercise.
Trust us. It’s easier than that weak version you tried way back when, because bigger hoops move more slowly around your waist. You can even make one yourself, with a little irrigation tubing and some decorative tape. It’s fun, in a retro, hip-swiveling sort of way. And with World Hoop Day just around the corner on Friday, now’s the time to learn.
“It’s very difficult to fail at adult-sized hula hooping,” says Georgina Toland, a dedicated hoopster who organizes Sunday hooping sessions in a grove of trees at the corner of South Fifth Street and Cumberland Road. (Another group of Austin Hoopers gathers at Zilker Park.)
Witness a recent weekend gathering:
Carrin Welch pulls up, unloads a stack of homemade hoops and pours water into a bowl for her terrier, Madeleine, who comes along to watch. Welch is wearing stretchy pants with wide, flared legs that hide her feet, standard attire in this hippy hoopy subculture.
“I’m never as happy as when I’m hooping,” Welch says.
She got hooked on hooping after observing hipsters hoop it up at music festivals and checking some YouTube videos. Now she’s got her own fire hoop, with wicks around the edges for extra impressive night shows.
“It’s sort of a new form of dance,” she says.
Like dancers, hoopers have their own styles. Wigglers stand with their feet parallel, swaying side to side. Rockers stand with one foot in front of the other, pumping the hoop back and forth. There are left hoopers, who swirl a hoop counter clockwise, and right hoopers, who twirl clockwise.
Toland, 45, started hooping because she figured she could burn calories by doing it. Included in her arsenal? A travel hoop, purchased from the Web site hoopnotica.com, that comes in six sections and snaps together.
She cranks up an iPod, and the Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be” blares in the background. Half a dozen hoopers gyrate. The hoops start on hips, but migrate to shoulders, necks and arms. One guy rolls two around his waist simultaneously. Another twirls one overhead like a lasso, in a move called The Wild West.
“There’s a real sense of flow,” Toland says. “You’re not thinking of paperwork, not thinking of finances. It’s the one time I’m in the moment.”
Sarah Moore, 44, a nurse at the Dell Children’s Medical Center, lolls a furry purple hoop around her hips, lets it ride up to her chest, then slinks one arm up and down like she’s doing the Swim. “It’s kind of meditative,” Moore says. “You don’t really think about a lot of things other than the hoop and the flow.”
For Moore, it’s a way to have fun and be joyful. She’s taken hoops to work and hooped with the kids there.
Hooping is hardly new. Wham-O Inc. celebrates the 50th anniversary of its Hula Hoop this year. But even ancient Egyptian children played with hoops of dried grape leaves. The first documented hooping craze in western society hit Britain in the 1500s. Wham-O started manufacturing plastic hoops in 1958, after noticing the wooden ring toys made by an Australian company. They called them Hula Hoops after noticing the hip-swaying similarities to Hawaiian hula dancing.
A cultural phenomenon was born. Demand was so great that the company stopped production of other toys to focus on churning out Hula Hoops. Japan banned the toys, thinking they might promote impropriety, and the Soviet Union called the Hula Hoop an example of the “emptiness of American culture,” Wham-O says. The smear campaign never hurt the company, which sold more than 100 million hoops that first year.
Now it’s making a comeback, thanks in part to the band the String Cheese Incident, which tossed hoops into the audience during shows a decade ago. It caught on. Hoopsters started showing up at raves and music festivals. More recently, it’s become a fitness phenomenon. Hooping is even an activity on Nintendo’s Wii Fit game.
“It’s an amazing workout,” Toland says. “It’s an easy entry to good health.”
Places like Austin Kula Yoga offer hooping classes, which instructor Jessica Montgomery calls a great way for parents and kids to do something silly together. Participants in Montgomery’s class get to take home a hoop, a CD of surf music and basic skills like how to stand, how to keep the hoop level and how to know if you’re a clockwise or counter-clockwise hooper. More advanced students learn to move the hoop from the waist to the neck and back down, how to dance while hooping and how to keep multiple hoops rotating simultaneously. They even dabble in hooping while executing various yoga poses.
A flier for a Hoopgirl class led by another local hoopster, musician and piano teacher Laura Scarborough, makes hooping sound like the next fountain of youth. According to her Web site, hoop-slinging moves with names like the Slinky, the Booty Bump and the Butt Spin can rev up cardiovascular endurance, boost libido, speed weight loss and turn flabby ab muscles into plates of steel. “Free yourself in ecstatic undulation, experiment with vocal release and express attitude and spunk!” her Web site announces.
At the very least, it can make you smile.
Scarborough, 34, got hooked on hooping when some of her friends showed up at one of her musical performances with hoops. She taught herself how (“A lot is just discovery and practice,” she says) and now hoops privately in her yard to meditate. She also takes her hoops to gigs, where she integrates hooping into her performances.
Scarborough, who says all shapes and sizes can hoop, will teach a six-week beginner class starting Oct. 5 at Alisa’s Dance Academy, 3267 Bee Cave Road. She says she once successfully taught a group of German seniors to hoop and says it can tone arms and strengthen core muscles.
“They’re calling it the new yoga,” Scarborough says.
At the South Austin meetup, the hooping is still going strong an hour and a half later.
“Do it slow — it feels really awkward at first,” one hooper advises another as they practice a new trick.
“I’m barely holding it now, so it’s easier to control,” another says.
“You can’t be unhappy when you do it,” says Rebecca Fulton, 41, who never could hoop as a kid but recently hooped so hard her abdominal muscles got sore. These days she hoops in her backyard, with her border collie mix, Paka, at her side.
“It’s a fun thing to do,” agrees Randal Setzler, 28, a personal trainer who says hooping improves body control. “It’s just a good way to get back into the physical if you’ve been out for a while.”
These Sunday meetups typically attract moms, dads, kids and a core group of people in their late 30s to early 40s. Toland started them in March because she didn’t want to be the only middle-aged woman in the park hooping.
“One woman hooping in a park alone looks silly, but three — that’s a party,” she says. “I’m amazed in the short period of time I’ve been hooping, I’ve got moves.”