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Hooping gains momentum as fitness method, art form

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Chances are, if you've been to a music festival or jam band concert recently, you've likely seen someone taking the art of hula-hooping to a whole new level. While most folks are familiar with the idea of spinning a plastic hoop around one's waist from their childhoods, hooping as an art form and fitness method has gained in popularity in recent years. Hoops of different sizes are used on arms, lowered and raised on the body and spun overhead — it's as much of a dance as it is an exercise.

"There are people who see us out in the public, people who already have an interest or people who see it on TV," says Katrina Cauble, one of the organizers of the hoop jams along with Dorne Pentes. "I've had dancers come in as well as rhythmic gymnasts and belly dancers, as well as those who just do it for fitness. It's a lot more fun than crunches or sit-ups. We also do fire-hooping at some events around town. I don't advertise, but it still slowly grows."

Cauble and Pentes both developed an interest in hooping while attending the annual Burning Man event in Nevada. National interest has been credited to the band String Cheese Incident who often threw hoops into the crowd during their concerts. "The interest has spread exponentially recently," Pentes says. "You start with a larger and heavier hoop, which is easier to keep up and make moves. As you get better, the weight and size decreases and you can do two or three at a time. The atmosphere is very uplifting and empowering; no one cares if it goes around twice and falls. It's just about having a good time while you learn."

The hoops that are used aren't the small plastic ones you'll see in toy and sporting goods stores. Instead, they are often made by the hoopers themselves using 3/4-inch polyethylene piping and gaffers tape. It can take 45 minutes to an hour to make. The cost of a hoop can range from $30 to $100 or more for an LED hoop.

One group in Charlotte, Spin Revolution (spinrevolution.com), has organized "hoop jams" twice a week at photographer Jim McGuire's local studio since September 2009. The jam attracts roughly 10-30 people each week who basically teach each other as they learn. The group occasionally organizes weekend workshops and plans are underway for more structured six- to eight-week classes so interested people can learn the basics and correct methods for learning how to hoop.

"I'll be doing some beginning, drop-in hooping classes right now at Open Door Studios," Wendy Fishman, Pentes' wife, says. "The concept is more about fundamentals and fitness. There will be people who want to get into hoop dancing and performance and then people who want to do it to stay fit. It's a great way to work your core and cardio, as well. I think it's a good way for people who want to get started and learn the basics. It can be intimidating if you go to a jam where people have more experience, but hopefully they'll grow into it."

Fishman notes that different weighted hoops produce different results. It's possible to just do work on your waist, but other hoops can work out arms and other muscles as tricks are learned.

While there is some "fear" that hooping will become mainstream -- Marisa Tomei and Michelle Obama are both proponents -- it's believed that only the most dedicated will stick with it long enough to learn the tricks and artistic side. It can take weeks if not months to develop the ability to move a hoop up and down your body with ease. For some people, hooping has an even deeper meaning.

"Hooping is a combination of two things for me, and for a lot of folks -- it is not only a way to exercise, but it is also a way to connect with the world around us," Pentes says. "Everything in our world spins -- the earth spin on its axis, the solar system spins around the sun, the universe spins, and so does time. That circular motion is a part of who we are as spiritual beings. So, hooping -- spinning -- is a way of connecting with that motion and of being a part of the grand cycle of life. Everything else spins, so why shouldn't we?"

For more on hooping, go to hooping.org. To find out more information about the classes and the hoop jam, go to spinrevolution.com. The Spin Revolution hoopers will also be at the drumSTRONG event on May 15 and 16.

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