One of the biggest fads of the 1950s has rolled back into style
Genny Reuter moves gracefully on the dance floor, gently rolling her hips. The slender, 20-year-old strawberry blonde, who has been hula-hooping for about a year, executes various tricks with ease. Her friends Kaitlyn Ray and Juliana Bledsoe, both 18, who have been hooping for two and four years, respectively, admit that Reuter is the best hooper in their group. They are part of a hula-hooping crew called Fruit Hoopz.
All three women are part of the reemerging trend of hooping, a subculture with Burning Man roots that has become increasingly popular in the past few years. Hooping—hoopers dropped the “hula” in conversation—has been especially popular in Reno and San Francisco, where Burning Man culture lives year-round.
“I think that the hoop scene in San Francisco and the hoop scene in Reno really reflect each other,” says experienced burner and hooper Richard Sheehy, sporting long, messy gray hair and a Where’s Waldo-style red-and-white striped shirt.
“People don’t realize that it’s grown a lot over the past year,” says Ray on her way back from the dance floor at Amendment 21, a bar and grill downtown that hosts hooping on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
“It’s sort of back,” says Bledsoe. “It was out of style for a while.”
Watching the three young hoopers on the dance floor brings a slew of adjectives to mind: sexy, intense, erotic, difficult, fun, intimidating.
“It’s kind of sensual,” says Bledsoe, comparing it to belly dancing.
Most hoopers consider hooping a form of dance, but with all the different tricks one can learn on a hula-hoop, it’s almost like skateboarding. The simple tricks, like bringing the hoop all the way up your arm while it’s spinning, are like the kick flip or the ollie in skateboarding. The difficult tricks, like spinning the hoop in place on the ground, then diving through it, picking it up with your arm and, while it’s still spinning, bringing it onto your waist and proceeding to spin the hoop, are like the backside 540 off a half pipe or double kick flip to backside rail grind.Hoop! (There it is)
As is true of many trends, hula-hooping is a mainstream fad of the past, reinvented. Hooping, however, has been reinvented countless times over the past few millenniums. The earliest record of hooping exists with the Greeks, who used it for exercise more than 3,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics show two-dimensional gods with animal heads twirling hoops at their leisure.
After an Australian company sold out of bamboo hula-hoops in 1957 and started making plastic ones, the fad of modern hula-hooping exploded. A year later, American toy manufacturing companies sold more than 100 million hula-hoops.
One hundred million. The population of the United States was about 175 million at the time. Hula-hoops were bigger than iPods are now.
Then the fad died out. There have been hula-hooping contests since the 1950s with varying attendance, and some circus acts have incorporated hula-hooping into their sets, but it lost its place in pop culture.
Almost 50 years later, some band at Burning Man thought it’d be cool to have hoopers perform during their set, according to Sheehy.
“The Muytator, they had a single hooper, right,” he says. “This tall guy, tall and skinny …”—who was possibly a woman. No one could tell for sure, says Sheehy.
Then the band started throwing hula-hoops into the crowd and a new old trend was born.
Reno-based Burning Man rap group Black Rock City Allstars followed suit, creating a song called “hula hoop.” It can be heard most Tuesdays at Amendment 21, which is also an open-mic night hosted by BRC Allstars.
“We just tried to make something that would mesh,” says beginning hula-hooper and BRC Allstars frontman Michael “Metaphysical” Russell. “Something fast. Something they could dance to—they like to dance fast.”You know, for kids
“Once you accomplish and master the skills, then it becomes a meditative state, almost,” says hooping and dance instructor Lisa Rizzoli, a level three hooping instructor certified by a San Francisco company called Hoop Girl.
She explains that the first level of hooping certification relates to the art as a dance. The second level is mental. The third, spiritual.
Rizzoli has been teaching hooping in Reno for about a year and a half. She’s been hosting free hoop “jam sessions” at various parks in Reno and Sparks on Sunday afternoons, but she says jam sessions will be on Wednesday nights during the summer.
“I bring music out. I bring loaner hoops. And it’s available to anyone who wants to hoop,” says Rizzoli of the hoop jams. “Free to the public. Anybody can pick up a hoop and start hooping with us.”
While acknowledging hooping as a Burning Man subculture, Rizzoli insists hooping is broader than that. Everyone from small children to grandparents come to the jam sessions, she explains.
Rizzoli also offers more specialized hoop classes at the Exotic Workout Studio, 600 S. Center St., Monday and Tuesday nights for $20 a class or $150 for 10 classes. Rizzoli explains that hooping as an exercise works the abs and core muscles. It makes sense. All the hoopers are in great shape.
“If I could hoop for a half hour, not only am I getting exercise, but I feel energized,” says advanced hooping student Wendy Firestone.
Rizzoli suggests beginning hoopers use bigger, heavier hoops.
“And then as you progress, you go to lighter, smaller ones,” she says. “The heavier ones have more momentum. If I’m doing a new trick I’m having difficulty with, I’ll go back to the [heavier] hoop. Lighter hoops are faster. Also, off-body moves with the smaller hoop are just easier to accomplish.”
With off-body moves, the hooper spins the hoop around something other than the torso or hip. One popular off-body move is for the hooper to lay down with one foot up and spin the hoop around the leg.
Ray can do the off-body leg spin standing up.
Another trick is tossing the hoop while it’s spinning. Rizzoli and some of her advanced students play catch with the hoop, spinning it into the air back and forth.
Some hoopers, like Sheehy and the women from Fruit Hoopz, have taken to fire hooping. It’s like regular hooping, says Sheehy, except that there are wicks sticking out of the hoop that are on fire.
“It takes about a third more energy than regular hooping,” he explains.
But even for hooping enthusiasts, defining all the tricks can be difficult.
“A lot of [tricks] have a lot of names,” says Ray.
“People call it a lot of different things,” says Reuter.
But learning the names of the tricks isn’t really why anyone wants to start hooping.
“It’s really fun,” says Bledsoe. “And it’s kind of sexy.”