Whole lotta hoopla: Hula hoops no longer just for kids

The hula hoop.

It shared a place in many childhood toy boxes alongside the pogo stick and the frisbee. But now many adults are dusting off the long lost favorite and giving it another spin.

It is not just about seeing how long you can keep the hoop spinning on your hip anymore, explained certified hooping instructor Angie Iafrate, 34, of Marietta. Hoop dancing, or hooping, is both a creative form of expression and an intense form of exercise, she said.

“It’s playful. It gives you a general sense of well-being. It’s hard not to be happy when you’re hooping,” she said.

Iafrate, who loved hula hooping as a child, rediscovered the art after graduate school, when she decided she wanted to learn a new skill while she looked for a job.

“I remembered years earlier seeing these two young girls hula hooping at a music festival and I had always been fascinated by it. I thought ‘Well that is it. I’ll learn how to do that,'” she said.

Iafrate took long distance certification classes through Hoopnotica, a leader in the exercise hooping industry, and has now taught hula hooping workshops in Marietta and Vienna, W.Va..

Hooping classes are being offered at a multitude of gyms across the country, from New York City to Chicago to San Francisco.

Iafrate’s workshop teaches students how to use the hula hoop to work their whole body. There are classic hip and waist hoop moves, she said, but students are also taught to hoop with their legs, their arms, their neck and more.

One of the best things about rediscovering hooping as an adult, said Iafrate, is that you did not have to be good at it as a child.

That’s what Reno resident Becky Rae Scott, 56, learned at a November workshop offered by Iafrate at Marietta’s S.W.A.G.G. store.

“I was one of those kids who could never do it. All the other kids could do it and I just dropped it,” she said.

When Scott saw the hooping workshop advertised, she thought it would be something fun to try with her 13-year-old daughter.

“We had a blast and within five minutes, I was swinging that hoop,” she recalled.

The difference is all in the hoop, explained Iafrate, who begins each workshop showing the difference between the small, flimsy hoops purchased in a toy aisle and the adult hoops she and her students use.

“The typical hoop we use in class weighs a pound and a half,” said Iafrate, who makes her own hoops for class use and for sale.

The hula hoops commonly used in modern hoop dancing or exercise classes are much larger than a child’s toy, typically somewhere between 36 to 42 inches in diameter, said Iafrate.

In fact, the hoops have come a long way since toy company Wham-O introduced them to the masses in 1957. Serious hoopers can now buy collapsible hoops, snap together hoops, light-up hoops and more. One website, moodhoops.com, sells a $300 “Future Hoop.” The lighted circle shuffles through a variety of lighting patterns as it is being used, according to the site.

Scott bought one of the hula hoops that Iafrate makes and sells at her workshops for around $25. Now that she has found the right hoop and realized her innate talent, she is a lifelong convert, she said.

In fact, Scott typically practices on her own every day. And although she never expected to, she has lost a bit of weight as well, she said.

“There isn’t anything easier than picking up a hula hoop. You can actually exercise every muscle in your body,” she said.

The exercise benefits of hula hooping are endless, said Iafrate.

Her classes, which feature a variety of music, combine all of the creative dancing aspects of hooping with more traditional fitness moves, such as lunges and squats, which also incorporate the hoop. The end result is that the activity improves core strength, posture, flexibility and muscle tone.

It is also good for the heart because it is an excellent cardiovascular exercise, she said.

A study by the American Council on Exercise found that a 30-minute hooping workout burns around 200 calories, about the same as a half hour of jogging.

That is one of the reasons 32-year-old Lowell resident Bethany Brown got involved in the activity.

“I work out a lot and I started hooping on my own for exercise,” said Brown, who enjoyed hula hooping as a child and picked it back up a couple years ago.

Brown also took Iafrate’s November workshop.

“I learned to do things I didn’t even know you could do with a hoop,” she said.

On top of exercising and self-expression, hula hooping is also a great family activity, explained Iafrate, whose 4-year-old son Luca is far ahead of the curve when it comes to his hooping skills.

When Luca’s teacher brought out the hula hoops at playtime recently, Luca spun it around his neck while all the other children tried some traditional waist spins.

“When his teacher asked what he was doing he told her ‘I’m doing it like mommy does,'” laughed Iafrate.

Brown’s 5-year-old son Carter also loves the activity and is always borrowing Brown’s hoops.

“I’m going to have Angie make one for my son,” she said.

And Scott said she is excited to practice her skills when her 12-year-old granddaughter visits this summer.

“She was the one telling me last summer ‘Just give it up, grandma.’ Well I plan to teach her a few things,” joked Scott.

Though both Brown and Scott continue to hoop in their free time, they are hoping to attend more classes.

Iafrate is offering another workshop at Pride Dojo, 177 Front St., Marietta from 2 to 4 p.m. April 6.

“The workshop is good for people who can’t come to a regular class but want to learn the foundational movements to be able to go home and work out independently with their hoop,” she said.

Starting the first week of April, she will also be teaching hour-long classes at Full Circle Yoga in Vienna on Thursdays and Sundays.

Because hooping takes a lot of space, classes fill up fast, so Iafrate recommends people reserve a spot by e-mailing her at MOVHoopla@gmail.com.