Going in circles
There's a reason that the hula hoop became a mega-trend of the 60s - it's fun, both for participants and onlookers. But now, in its latest revival, the iconic plastic ring is shedding its association with teenyboppers and beach parties, as well as the name "hula," and is been reintroduced as the latest medium for exercise and dance.
Artist Keren Tonnesen offers hoop dancing classes every Tuesday evening in the Common Room at Island Co-Housing in West Tisbury. She refers to herself as "an intermediate hooper," although to watch her perform a series of tricks and fluid dance moves with a hoop, you have to wonder what level one has to attain to be deemed an expert.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Ms. Tonnesen got hooked on the idea after watching a professional hooper on TV. She fabricated one from plumbing supplies, and began practicing. Last spring, she started Hoop Groop - a gathering that's part instructional and part a chance to get together with other enthusiasts to share ideas and develop new moves.
There seems to be something about hooping that brings out the kid in everyone. The class is characterized by laughter, mutual encouragement, and playful experimentation. Ms. Tonnesen usually gives a demonstration and is mesmerizing to watch. "Hoop dancing involves using the hoop in every conceivable way, and even beginners can do moves that are astonishingly beautiful and surprising," she says.
Ms. Tonnesen's informal Tuesday evening meetings allow people to drop in at any time during the class and leave when they want. She says, "I do it for two hours so people can come when it's good for them, and not worry about being late." She says that you really only need about 20 minutes to a half hour to get a good workout.
Almost everyone finds that they can keep the hoop up on the first try. Diana Lynn, who has only been hooping for about a month, but is already proficient, comes with her 13-year-old daughter, two of her friends and their daughters. She says, "Keren worked with us, and right away we were all doing it. It's a great workout. The next day you feel it in your butt, your stomach, your thighs, your quads. It's just so much fun that you forget that it's exercise."
Ms. Tonnesen says, "People who are using the core muscles maintain their flexibility. It's low impact and it's so good for keeping you active and keeping your musculature engaged as you get older. It can be done in a massaging, transfixing state or a highly aerobic style."
The goal of the class is a full body workout. "It's engaging all the core muscles," Ms. Tonnesen says, "but I also do a lot of things for the upper body. Just the fact that your arms are held above your waist adds 15 percent to your aerobic workout. As you defy gravity with the rapid circular motion of the hoop you are strengthening the neurological pathways for countering gravity, maintaining balance and control. These pathways are physiological and psychological. The effects are palpable."
Many people find that maintaining the rhythm is meditative and a great stress reliever. Native Americans have a history of using hoops to attain trance states.