Photo: Anne Lawrence, Handmade hoops, 2009

Stand with your feet shoulders-width apart, but staggered, one just in front of the other. Bend your knees. Rock your weight back and forth, find your hips. Feel your arms lift up and away from your body. Find your rhythm, just rock.

Step into the hoop. Go to your rocking stance, press the hoop to the small of your back, holding it with your arms spread wide. Twist and extend your torso one way and your arms holding the hoop the other while you are rocking back and forth. Keeping the hoop level, throw it on to the left (or right), speed up catching it with your hips as you hold your arms out of the way. Find the sway, the motion that keeps the hoop up, going around. If it drops instead of floats, then practice your rhythm more and try again.

I don’t recall even having a hula hoop as a kid. Hooping was strictly professional. We bought the tubing and connectors at the hardware store, from the plumbing department, selecting the right tube wall thickness for heavy or lightweight hoops. The right kind of shears cut through the coil of tubing to set the diameter of the hoop, but you had to stick the ends in boiling water, separately, in order to soften the plastic to fit the connectors — this was my least favorite part. We ordered the tapes online; sparkling hologram rainbow colors were applied first, then a layer of gaffer tape for grip. Winding tape on was a little tricky, trying to set just the right angles to cover the black of the plumbing tube while just overlapping the two tapes at their edges. The color combinations gave each hoop its personality: purple hologram + navy blue = dreamy, orange hologram + red = loud, pink hologram + yellow = sunny.

When we sold the hoops at the local monthly pop-up farmer’s market, the brighter the hoops, the better. While we’d sell out of our smaller kids hoops, our handmade oversized hoops were really for adults looking to a fun way to be active. The size and “artisan” price point made this clear. Larger heavier hoops are easier to “keep up,” the increased momentum and inertia mean you don’t have to move as fast, making it a great tool for adult beginners. We taught hooping classes for beginners in the basement of South Side at Lamar, a loft and apartment community in a converted Sears building. The classes were targeted to those in the building and community looking to do something fun and active. A few mentions and highlights in the local paper kept the classes full and skewed our demographic towards older women looking for a low impact exercise.

You just stand and rock, right? People would ask us “how long can you hoop?” Honestly, never tried to time it. We were too busy learning tricks. Hoop at the waist, easy. Below the hips, okay. Shoulder hoop, a little tricky. Monkey (alternating arms up while hooping at the shoulder), easier than just shoulder. Knee hoop, painful, but got it. Barrel roll, kind of exhausting. Typically, we’d start with the basic hooping, then walking while hooping, then starting on the lift — how to scoop the hoop up with one hand and bring it up over your head for a hand hoop. There is an endless assortment of tricks with one or more hoops to play with.

That’s pretty much what it was, play. Sometimes bruised from the heavy hoop or a trick gone wrong, or frustrated from the 100th attempt to do a shoulder roll (roll the hoop from the tip of one hand with a flick across the arms and your back at the shoulder blades to the other arm and catch it with your finger tips), it had to be play in order to keep trying. But, it was also a business. I was the assistant hooping instructor, hoop maker, and media contact. I only took it up to help a friend who knew I needed the help. Chronically underemployed, I was looking for any and all opportunities. When the craze was hot, we were very spinning very fast, but eventually, the buzz died down and slowly we wound the business down.

Because of my hooping credentials, I taught a high school hooping summer class at a local college and incorporated a hooping lesson into a middle school art lecture on the work of painter Susan Rothenberg on the grounds of a local museum, to emphasize her circle motifs, of course. Here, hooping served two purposes: to get the wiggles out of bored kids while trying to shake off the self-consciousness that comes with trying to be too serious. Not a bad lesson for adults either — you’re going to look ridiculous, but you’ll be having too much fun to notice.

Writer, researcher, observer