Cora Schiller is well-travelled, educated, and healthy. She owns an aesthetics and boutique store in Qualicum Beach, B.C. And she has an addiction. She describes this addiction as “magical” and says that for the past four-and-a-half years, it has had a huge effect on not only her mind and body, but her soul.
“It effects my life in every way,” says Schiller, 45. “It makes me happy, it lets me be creative, and it’s becoming ridiculous. All I do is think and dream about freaking hooping.”
Hoops are often mistaken as simply toys. In the 1950s they were introduced to the mainstream by Wham-O, a California toy company, and directly marketed as toys—made in small sizes with light, vibrantly coloured Marlex plastic. However, hooping dates back much further than the previous century. In 19th century England, children would spin metal hoops around their bodies. In the 1400s, First Nations tribes would use hoops made of reeds in order to tell stories, similar to modern interpretive dance. And as early as 500 BCE, hoops were being used as exercise tools in Greece. Now, hooping has come full circle and is practiced all around the world in order to hone body, mind, and spirit.
“It’s the new yoga,” Schiller explains. “Whatever someone is into, they’re incorporating it into hooping. Hoop exercise, hoop meditation, hoop performance art. It used to be seen as a ‘hippie thing,’ but now it’s mainstream. People are doing it in offices to relieve stress. It’s literally for everybody—the hoop is just a prop.”
Hoopers tend to start out with simple waist movements, then move onto more complex off-the-body movements like spinning, twirling, or throwing the hoop in the air, and often start incorporating intricate dance movements into their routines as well.
“It’s a lot like interpretive dance,” adds University of Victoria (UVic) student Katrina Tutty. “Once you become comfortable with it, it becomes a really great way to express yourself. Some people start hooping to get fit, and some treat it like an art. For me, it’s an amazing ability to take a simple object and create whatever you want out of it.”
Tutty discovered hooping during a yoga retreat at Yasodhara Ashram in Nelson, B.C., and was curious enough to give it a whirl.
“I picked up hooping as a challenge for myself,” Tutty says, “to try and do something new and unconventional. When I started I couldn’t even keep it around my waist.” Tutty soon fell in love with hooping, and upon returning home, decided to share her love of hooping with others.
In 2012, Tutty founded UVic’s Hula Love Club, which hosts weekly drop-in classes on the UVic campus where hoopers can try out new moves and research different styles. “I’m trying to attract more people to hooping,” Tutty says. “It’s a little intimidating to do in public, so we’ve set up a private setting complete with music.
“You never know who can do it until they pick up a hoop,” Tutty says. “Some people came to club day, people who had never hooped before, and they absolutely killed it. Others were more like I was, rough but intrigued.”
Schiller says that hooping is not only used to connect with others, but to connect with one’s self. “It really balances your chakras. Once you get the basics, then you’re not thinking of keeping the hoop up and you can let go and turn inward. A lot of people who can’t get into traditional meditation get into hoop meditation, and it’s really exciting to teach because you get to see so many people connect and lighten up.”
Hooping has become a subculture, one which Schiller has heard compared, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically, with the peace movement; many communities have opened up within the hooping world. For ravers there is firehooping, for fans of burlesque there is hooptease, and for couples there is tandem hooping. A certain testosterone-laden sub-group, however, has been reluctant to give it a try.
“It’s a fairly feminine hobby,” Tutty admits, “so the club is always trying to encourage more guys to come to the classes. Men tend to go more for off-the-body movements (holding the hoop with their hands), and anything that uses the upper body-emphasizing the shoulders more than the hips.”
Tony Carter, 20, is the club manager of Tutty’s Hula Love Club, and the only male member. “Hooping is fun, and a good way to learn how to dance,” Carter says, “something I’ve always been terrible at. I figured that bringing a hoop to a rave and showing off your moves would be a great way to meet people. But, just like dance, not a lot of guys are interested in it. I think a lot of guys see it as a ‘girl thing’ since girls are supposed to play with hula hoops and jump ropes and that sort of thing growing up.”
Although most hoopers are female, the hobby still has its own roster of male icons: California-based architect, Rich Porter, discovered hooping in the underground clubs of Los Angeles, California. Something about the plastic circle resonated with him, Porter says on his website Hoop Technique as he related the movements of the hoop with his architecture, and a year later he moved to San Francisco, California, and started the fire arts performance group, Fluid Luminescence.
Jonathan Baxter received a shoulder injury while in college, and took up the hoop (one which he received from an ex-girlfriend) as a cheap rehabilitation. He found that it also relieved him of the depression he had also been facing since childhood. Baxter now teaches hooping classes in Carrboro, North Carolina, and around the world.
In recent years, hooping events have popped up all over the globe. Hoop Convergence, a five-day festival of hooping workshops and classes in North Carolina, has been running annually since May 2008. Sacred Circularities, a Bali-based hooping group, holds a one-week retreat based on healing and meditation through hooping in Sedona, Indonesia every year. Even music festivals like Burning Man in Nevada and Gathering of the Vibes in Connecticut are welcoming more and more hoopers every year.
“There’s a global hooping community that’s popping up all over the world,” Schiller says. “I’m welcomed with open arms whenever I go to Hawaii or Bali for a hooping retreat, and it feels great to be able to connect with people through the hoop.”
Tutty and her troupe hope to make a pilgrimage to Burning Man next year. In the meantime, they’re focussing on their first public performance. She performed in the Victoria Flow Art Society’s festival in Jan. She and her partner, Nadia Hamdon, perform visually-enhanced, semi-improvised, narrative hoop dance. She spent her study breaks in the park perfecting her movements, and her evenings at home putting together reflective hoops specifically for the performance, which tells the tale of two women creating a spontaneous friendship through hooping—a story she hopes resonates with the audience.
“Hooping really has changed my life,” Tutty confesses. “It’s helped me connect with myself, it’s helped me connect with friends, and it’s helped me connect with the world. It’s a connection that grows every day.”