| Mindfulness in Motion

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A Brief History of Hooping

The hoopdance revolution officially started in the late 1990s with a handful of idealistic youth who followed the summer music festivals in the United States. Each took their oversized hula hoops back home to share with family and friends. From there the playful challenge of hoopdance grew into an international, intergenerational movement that invites us to feel good in our bodies and in our world. Playing with hoops of natural materials goes back to antiquity, but the advent of molded plastics made possible one of the biggest fads ever documented by sociologists. In 1958 over twenty million plastic hoops were manufactured and sold as toys during a few months. The plastic hoop became a toy-box staple that was promoted now and again, especially in times of trouble.

In 1958 the United States was facing its first major recession since the Great Depression; unemployment was rising and auto sales were falling after thirteen years of postwar growth. In Europe and Canada many businesses and mining operations closed, causing exporting countries to suffer a decline in raw materials. Hula hooping took the world by storm at the same time, even though the Soviet Union denounced it as an example of empty American culture, and Japan banned the hoop to prevent immodest behavior.

Hooping resurfaced during the Vietnam War, and in 1968 the Wham-O Manufacturing Company, creator of the Hula Hoop, began collaborating with the National Parks & Recreation Network. In competitions later named the World Hula Hoop Championships, competitors were judged on the performance of specific maneuvers. Freestyle routines set to music established a root of the contemporary hoopdance movement. Then hooping seemed to disappear from popular consciousness again only to return in the early 1980s with another recession. Barry Shapiro, Wham-O’s executive vice president and general manager in 1982, said, “Wham-O has always felt that when the world is in kind of a messy way, and people are unhappy, something like the hoop lets them just forget everything while they go spinning around.”

The World Hula Hoop Championships grew from five hundred host cities in 1968 to over two thousand in the 1980s, with two million participants. National competitions were exported and staged in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. In 1987 Mat Plendl’s performance on national television transformed the phenomenon of child’s play into adult pop culture. As hooping emerged in the following decade, distinct styles developed and spread.

By 1991 Paul Blair was using a hoop to dance at music concerts in Washington State. Later he supplied larger hoops to the String Cheese Incident band in Colorado. The band took hoops to music festivals and threw them from the stage to get people moving. Betty Shurin and Anah Reichenbach were in the audience in 1997, and hoopdancing changed their lives. Betty holds world records and hoops while snowboarding. Anah introduced hooping to the Los Angeles nightclub and rave scene and went on the road selling her handmade hoops as “Hoopalicious.”

In 2001, Vivian Hancock (aka Spiral) took her String Cheese Incident hoop back to the little town of Carrboro, North Carolina. Together with Julia Hartsell and Jonathan Baxter, she formed a community that others continue to travel to for hooping camaraderie. At the same time members of Groovehoops were meeting in New York’s Central Park, because as Stefan Pildes says, “After 9/11 it was important to be with friends and play.” All across the country, people were rediscovering hula hooping in a new form, with bigger hoops for dancing, performing, and healing. Michele Clark, an original member of Groovehoops, says, “The magic of hoopdance is in the physical process of creative learning. Neural pathways are reconstructed when you spontaneously let each thing you do lead to the next. It changes you.”

My husband, Tom Weidlinger, is a documentary filmmaker who often spends more time at his desk writing, researching, and editing than he does moving about on location. He started hooping to relieve his sciatica pain, and because he is six foot six, I made him a five-foot diameter hoop with one-inch tubing. Going beyond waist hooping, he exercises shoulders, wrists, and spine as well as his lower back. Tom and I both work from home and on most days we add a hoop session to our coffee break, in the street in front of our home. In Chicago Heather Crosby hoopdanced in small bars, as well as in front of sixty thousand spectators at Soldier Field, but she was uncomfortable with being in the spotlight. She established Hooper Power to teach classes and workshops as a more personal way of sharing her connection to the hoop with others.

Hooping.org columnist Lara Eastburn felt completely involved in the hooping community from behind her computer screen but she worried about going to her first in-person hoop gathering, “What if I’m the odd one out in groups of old friends?” When she got there, familiar online avatars sprang to life as real and welcoming faces. Her Hooping Family Tree Project charted hoopdance worldwide, documenting hoopdance genealogy from its inception to 2012. For instance, my hoopdance lineage goes like this: Dizzy Hips → String Cheese Incident → Hoopalicious → HoopGirl → Rosie Lila → Jan Camp. (See the full project results at www.hoopdancebook.com/family-tree.)

How To Use the Book

While Hoopdance Revolution primarily aims to tell the story of hoopdance as a cultural movement, it offers practical applications of philosophy as well as movement tips. According to sports psychology, mental training enhances athletic performance. Creative visualization based on the examples in the book may lead you to your own revelations if you picture yourself dancing with the hoop as you read, or listen to and watch the optional music and video links . You will find a complete set of 30-second video clips for each chapter as well as hoopdance-related website links at in the Resource section.

Part Descriptions Part I: Into the Circle. The hoop is a simple circle, yet people who connect with it talk about opening their lives to synchronicity, deep healing, and flow. Read stories about the physical and emotional benefits of hooping for children and adults. Learn to make a hoop, warm up, and waist hoop, with playful exercises.

Part II: The Revolution. All you need to join the revolution, no matter what your age or size, is a hoop that’s right for you and a generous portion of passion, persistence, and letting go. Join the author as she meets individuals who used hoops distributed by the String Cheese Incident band to spread the practice of hoopdance. Find out how you can connect on the Internet, why people join the movement, and where they gather.

Part III: Hoopdance. Meet performers who bridge two hoopdance styles: trick-oriented circus arts and contemporary-flow hoopdance. The movement generates myriad combinations of clothing, tools, and sound. Hoopdance shares technique with juggling, yoga, and martial arts. See how hoopdance is used for charity toward others and for personal spiritual growth.


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tom weidlinger hooping
Tom Weidlinger 2011