Join the Hoop Revolution

Let’s Get Physical

The Tuesday hoop jam at Joe’s Movement Emporium draws hoopers of all levels to practice and learn. Photo: Noelle Powers.

Remember the Hula Hoop craze that electrified young Boomers in the late 1950s? If that’s before your generation, just know that, according to Time magazine, 25 million Hula Hoops were sold in the first few months of their release. But this article isn’t about those toys of yesteryear.

In its latest incarnation hooping has become a form of fitness, therapy, and meditation. It’s even been embraced as a flow art, a dance-like performance that focuses on object manipulation (e.g. fire performance, juggling, yo-yoing).

Dancer and hoop instructor Noelle Powers began a love affair with hooping while living in Seattle, and continued when she returned to her hometown of Silver Spring. “There are myriad benefits. It’s a great workout for losing weight, burning calories, and building muscle, but it’s also a great brain workout,” she says. “So it ends up having a simultaneously calming and energizing effect. It’s a moving meditation, and lots of times people have trouble with meditation in terms of just sitting still.”

The Wheel, Reinvented

Today’s hoops aren’t just mass-produced, one-size-fits-all plastic rings. Now the best ones are handmade. They’re multi-sized by experience level and intended use, weighted for fitness training, or thinned for performing tricks, and even collapsible for easy transport. And they’re very personal, something like a yogi’s mat. Even hooping itself has expanded far beyond waist rotations.

As Powers explains, “Some people are more workout-centric with their hooping, or dancer-like, or trick-centric, or meditative. [There are] so many different avenues, and [hooping] evolves as more people get into it.”

In the Hoop

One thing that hasn’t changed about hooping is the motion. But that doesn’t mean it’s effortless, especially if it’s been a while since you whipped one around your hips. I found this out at the weekly Tuesday hoop jam at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mt. Rainier, which Powers teaches. After choosing a hoop from the 25 or so leaning against a wall in the studio, I was ready to get started. I remembered hooping as a child, how it seemed to be just a matter of keeping my body in motion.
I quickly realized, though, that adult hooping requires more thought than that. It’s more like hand-eye coordination – except I had to coordinate the hoop, my waist, and my eyes. My core muscles engaged immediately, almost involuntarily. Contrary to my notions, watching myself in the studio’s mirrors was actually disorienting.

Still, it didn’t take much time to get the hang of it. And it was fun! Powers’ eclectic, vibrant playlist, the studio’s dim, colorful stage lights, and the hoop-dance going on around me created a party-like atmosphere. I set some personal goals for the evening. As Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” played, I figured out how to baby-step a full circle while keeping the hoop spinning. Sometime during a samba song, 20 minutes later, I learned to rock the hoop around my waist in either direction. Oh, and my forehead was glowing.

Although the five other women present were doing amazing things – like Powers, who was hooping with her feet and legs while lying on her back, or Deanna Wertheimer, the person nearest to me, who was spinning her hoop around her waist, chest, shoulders, neck, and arms – I felt proud of the progress I’d made.

For Wertheimer, a Columbia Heights resident, the endless opportunity for advancement makes hooping interesting. “When I started I thought waist hooping was boring. I wanted to do all the interesting tricks,” she shares. “Then I went to Return to Roots [a flow arts retreat], and in one workshop that was just about waist hooping we learned all these interesting and challenging things … I realized there was so much room for exploring.”

The Hooping Community

Usually hoopers practice and perform at community events such as the Malcolm X  (Meridian Hill) Park drum circle, H Street Festival, or Lumen8Anacostia. There are also pockets of local hooping enthusiasts who use Facebook and Meetup to connect and jam. Currently the hoop jam at Joe’s Movement Emporium is DC’s closest consistent hooping class. Friday, Oct. 5, is World Hoop Day 2013; as of press time the nearest organized celebration is in Silver Spring.

For at-home training, websites and are the resources of record, but hoop blogs (such as Powers’ can offer helpful information. Purchase an “adult hula hoop” online or from a local distributor, such as Powers; generally, larger, heavier hoops are better for adult beginners and/or bigger bodies.

Powers also recommends a YouTube education for those who want to practice on their own. A YouTube search for “hooping” yields about 340,000 results. As the saying goes, everything old is new again.

You can connect with Noelle Powers via her blog, The hoop jam at Joe’s Movement Emporium (3309 Bunker Hill Rd., Mt. Rainier, Md.) takes place on Tuesdays from 6:45 to 8:15 p.m. There is a $10 drop-in fee.

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