The woman spins round and round, two hoops undulating around her. It’s haunting, mesmeric, hypnotic and I start to understand how a snake must feel when it’s being charmed. Hooping has certainly come a long way since children spun light plastic hoops in the playground. This is way more than a fitness phenomenon. A little bit hippy-dippy, a little bit circus-punk, it’s achingly cool and will doubtless be whirling its way round the festival circuit this summer. Classes are springing (or should that be swirling) up all over the country and everyone from sussed teenagers to give-it-a-go grannies are taking to the hoop.
Diana Defries is the founder of Hoopswhirled which runs classes in and around London. ‘Hooping appears to be evolving fast but it’s been going in its present form for over ten years,’ she says. ‘I guess that qualifies it as an ‘overnight success’!’ The current movement began in clubs and festivals in the US but quickly went mainstream. ‘Hooping makes you feel more positive and calmer with a great sense of being grounded and connected to your body,’ enthuses Defries. ‘The rhythmic motion of hooping also brings about beneficial changes in brainwave activity.’
However it’s not all in the mind. Hooping is a gentle low-impact workout that mobilises the spine. Defries points out that it works ‘over 30 core muscles’, improves balance and coordination and helps to increase strength and stamina. ‘You get fitter, lose inches and firm up your midsection and other areas when you hoop.’
John Parnell (aka Hoop Guy) who both teaches and performs, also stresses the holistic nature of hooping. ‘Many people say that hooping helps lift their mood,’ he says. ‘It has even supposedly helped people through bouts of depression, though it would be irresponsible to make wild claims. There is also a lot of anecdotal evidence that hooping helps strengthen the muscles surrounding your lower spine, just like Pilates, and this can be beneficial to anyone who has suffered with a bad back in the past.’
If you ever tried hooping with a child’s lightweight toy hoop and found it impossible, take heart. The bigger and heavier the hoop, the easier it is to work. Classes range from the simple and basic hoop fitness or ‘hulaerobics’ workouts (many Rosemary Conley classes use them) to extreme creative and expressive classes. If you are wondering just how much one person can do with a large piece of tubing watch Cirque du Soleil’s mind-bending balletic, acrobatic extravaganza (see www.hooping.org.uk for the video).
The best bet for beginners is to find a class. You can learn from a DVD but, as Parnell points out pragmatically, not many people have the space to hoop (safely) in their living rooms. He finds all sorts of people enjoy his classes – especially those who have been put off standard aerobics – and is now starting to work with children in schools as a way to tackle obesity. ‘However not many men hoop,’ he says sadly. ‘Some see it as a bit cissy, a bit girly.’
He thinks they’re missing a trick. ‘I’m a man in my 50s and I love it. It’s addictive, in a nice way, because you are always looking to challenge yourself. Not many people appreciate that the brain works better when given physical and spatial skills challenges as well as ordinary mental stimulation.’
Great for the body, soothing for the soul and a tool for mental acuity too. Seems the hippy happy hoopy workout really does offer the lot.
HOW TO HOOP…
1. Stand comfortably with one leg slightly in front of the other.
2. Place the hoop in the small of your back with your dominant hand at the front of the hoop.
3. Swing the hoop around your body and start to move your hips forward and backward to keep it spinning.
4. It can take time and practice, so don’t be too impatient.
Check with your doctor if you have any back or joint problems. Pregnant women should not hoop in the first trimester and only under medical supervision afterwards.