Trying to carry on a conversation with a woman twirling a plastic hoop around her wrist, around her neck, around her waist should pose some problems.
But Maria Reynolds-Oosting chats easily about her love of the past five years – hula hooping.
“You have to laugh at yourself,” she said. “It’s kind of silly. You’re playing with a plastic circle.”
In Charlotte, Carrboro – and around the world – the hula hoop has morphed from a kids toy that hit its popularity in the 1950s to a vehicle of self-expression, acrobatics and mind-body health for adults. Fueled by the free-for-all spirit of jam bands Phish and String Cheese Incident and the anything-goes festivals Burning Man and Bonnaroo, the past 10 years have seen the culture of hooping boom.
Notice: There is no “hula” with this hoop. Adults call it a hoop, period. They engage in hooping or hoopdance, or they jam. They have fun. But it’s not a playground game.
‘Like a runner’s high’
Five years ago, Dorne Pentes picked up a hoop he saw lying on the ground at an arts festival in Asheville; now, hooping has become more than a way to exercise without feeling like he’s exercising. It’s an artistic outlet and it’s a spiritual recharger. Think about how the hoop moving around your body mimics the movement of the universe, he said.
“It makes you happy,” he said. “It’s kind of like a runner’s high, I guess.”
Hoops have been used since ancient times in Egypt for exercise and play, and traditionally were made of natural materials such as bamboo, willow, rattan and grapevines.
Native Americans used smaller, interlocking hoops to tell stories for centuries. In fact, the first world champion hoop dancer, Eddie Swimmer, came from Cherokee, N.C..
Wham-O (the toy company that brought us the Frisbee, Silly String and the Hackey Sack) began marketing a plastic hoop in 1958. At the height of the fad, 50,000 Hula Hoops were being manufactured daily.
Today’s hoops are different – they are heavier and custom-made, most often of irrigation plumbing. The weight makes them easier to control, and the material makes them easily customized.
Like many modern hoopers, a Charlotte mom who goes by Cara Zara makes and sells her own hoops. Typically, they’re 38-40 inches in diameter and cost about $40.
“Most of the ones you can buy at a retail store are made for the average 6-year-old,” she said. “It’s not easy for adults to use.”
Cara Zara has built a business out of her love of hooping. It’s her full-time job.
She teaches kids during summer camps, after-school programs and birthday parties. For adults, she puts on corporate events, fitness classes and private lessons.
Her hooping style goes beyond hip circuits and elbow tricks. She makes the hoops flow around, above and beside her. It’s graceful, like dancing. She wears pants with huge bell-bottoms that twirl as she spins, and she sometimes dons a hot-pink, bobbed wig. The music ranges from classical to the theme from “The Jetsons.”
She said hooping has shaved 20 pounds off her frame and has added muscle tone, stamina and lung strength to help with her asthma. She said hooping is a versatile exercise form: “It’s the kind of thing that you can take from being very low-impact and yoga-like to being a serious cardio workout.”
Pentes said North Carolina is one of the hotspots of the modern hooping movement in the U.S.
Hooping in Carrboro
The HoopPath, based in Carrboro, sponsors retreats and workshops year-round. The group’s most recent tour, EarthQuake, includes stops across the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. Founder Jonathan Baxter picked up a hoop to help him recover from a shoulder injury. He preaches a curriculum that is equal parts spirit and sport.
His seventh annual HoopPath retreat, “HP7: Sangha,” comes to Carrboro in June.
And an unaffiliated Hoop Convergence retreat, held every year in the Raleigh-Durham area, brings hoopers from all over to learn new skills.