When Montrealer Marie-Pier Jolicoeur needs a break from working on her Ph.D. dissertation, she heads to Parc Lafontaine—with her Hula Hoop. “I get a better sweat hooping than I do on my stationary bike,” said Jolicoeur, 26. She recently completed a four-session hula hooping class at the park. “One or two guys usually stop to talk to me whenever I practise. They want to see my moves,” she said.
Popularized in the 1950s, hooping is back. It doesn’t hurt that it now has celebrity cachet. Just as Desperate Housewives’ Teri Hatcher helped popularize pole dancing, actress Marisa Tomei did her bit for hula hooping when she told Ellen DeGeneres she hoops to stay in shape. Tomei’s new instructional hooping DVD will be available in August.
The hoops that are gaining popularity are not the Hula Hoop toys of yesteryear. Heavier than the old ones trademarked by Wham-O (most of the new hoops weigh about a kilo), they’re designed for exercise. Hula hoopers say what makes this latest fitness craze different from any other is simple—it’s fun. “This doesn’t feel like fitness,” said Shannon Crane, owner of two Aradia Fitness centres in Toronto. In good weather, Crane teaches her “hoop burn” class on the rooftop patio of one of her locations. “No one’s looking at the clock,” she said. Jennifer Hardy, a thirtysomething executive assistant in Crane’s Saturday afternoon class, says she was never much into fitness—“I can’t get on a treadmill for an hour.” For her, hooping doesn’t feel like exercise. Yet she’s noticed the physical benefits. “My waist has a lot more definition, though it’s done nothing to flatten my fat ass.”
Nicole Farley, co-owner of the Vancouver-based Pixie Hoops, a company that manufactures exercise hoops and offers classes, says, “When we launched our online store in 2008, we were selling five hoops a month. Now we sell two a day.” Farley says no one is too clutzy to hoop. “With the old hoops, you had to move your body very quickly. The new ones have more momentum.” Farley thinks the dance component helps make hooping fun: “You’re dancing with a partner, only you’ve got a Hula Hoop, not a partner.”
Heather Umpherville has done six hooping classes offered by Pixie Hoops in Victoria. Umpherville doesn’t just rotate her hoop around her hips; she can make it twirl around her hands, knees, waist, chest, even her neck. Asked what’s fun about hooping, Umpherville, 26, says, “Everything. It brings out this ridiculous happy childhood euphoria in me.”
Montreal hooping instructor Sabine Bourgault offers classes through the city’s Studios Vert Prana yoga school, including the one at Parc Lafontaine. She took up hooping in 2006, after noticing women hula hooping on a beach in Hawaii. “Hooping is really sexy. We’re not used to moving our hips in sexy ways,” she said. She says the trick to keeping the hoop in motion is to have one foot forward, to bend slightly at the knees and gently rock the hips forwards and backwards. “Most people try to swivel from side to side. That doesn’t work,” she said.
When Tanya Harvey decided to include a hoop game at her June wedding reception, she had no idea hooping was the latest exercise rage. A preschool teacher in Lethbridge, Alta., Harvey says the inspiration came from her students. “Instead of clinking glasses to get us to kiss, I had the idea of using a Hula Hoop. People had to hoop for 30 seconds,” she said. The game grew into something bigger: if a person could keep swivelling an unweighted dollar-store hoop for 30 seconds, Tanya and her husband, Robin, would make a donation to charity; if not, the hooper covered the donation.
The best hula hooper at the wedding turned out to be Anglican pastor Chris Roth, 31. Hooping is more spiritual than it looks, says Roth: “The temptation for adults is to make hula hooping into exercise. We adults need to be able to play. Human beings are naturally spiritual. When we do something playful or that helps us transcend ourselves a little bit, that connects us to our spirituality. You know how they say, ‘Time flies when we’re having fun’? That’s because we’re getting a sense of the eternal.”