The Legend of the Hoop That Started a Revolution

STI [Hooping.org columnist Lara Eastburn looks deeper into the legend of how hooping as we know it began.]

by Lara Eastburn

For many, the history of hula hooping begins with Wham-O and the 1950’s mania for a tiny plastic circle. Judith Lanigan and Rayna McInturf can take you even further on a hoop-trip into ancient times. But the oil-tinted and black-and-white history of tiny toy hoops isn’t responsible for inspiring the re-generation of hoopdance as we know it, are they? Somehow, somewhere, somebody got it into their head to make an adult-sized hoop, a hoop that most anyone could keep up, a hoop that would change lives. Once upon a time, someone made the hoop that would eventually spawn a community of people whose lives would be centered around it. One day, that person made a “big hoop.” Several years later, there were hoopers. Ever wondered about how that happened? Hooping.org’s reasearcher-extraordinaire digs deep for the story.

Hooping, like any other culture, has its legends, myths, and folklore. Let’s start with what we know. Our shared hooping folklore seems to begin with the jam-band The String Cheese Incident (pictured above). At some point, as the story goes, String Cheese threw jumbo-sized hoops out into the audience. A few of those in attendance at these early traveling shows were so enamored with these hoops, and how they felt in them, that they brought their potential home with them… and ran with it. Anah Reichenbach (aka Hoopalicious of Hoop Revolution) brought the magic home to Los Angeles, California, from the High Sierra Music Festival in 1997. Stefan Pildes of Groovehoops picked up a hoop at a show at the Summit Music Festival in New York, circa 2000. That same year, Jason “Unbound” Strauss came home to Boston from a festival in western Massachusetts, and the next year put the first hoop-making instructions up online. Vivian Hancock, (aka Spiral, now half of Hoop Technique) sprinkled hoop glitter all over North Carolina after a String Cheese show in 2001. So hoops at String Cheese shows across the nation inspired our first and seminal hoopers. Okay. But how did the band come upon the idea of making big hoops to begin with?

DizzyOne man tells me, he had a hand in doing it. Paul “Dizzyhips” Blair (pictured) was living in Telluride, Colorado, at the same time that a local band named String Cheese Incident was pulling in whopping crowds of twelve drunks, and these patrons were already at the bar. According to Paul, he was already experimenting with hula hoops, as were others in the secretive-about-their-methods circus crowd. It was Colorado, so it was snowing. The vacant dance floors of those early String shows offered him a warm place to practice hooping and, marginally to his interests at the time, to rub elbows with the yet-to-be-famous band.

Meanwhile, Paul was making ends meet as a contractor. One day, on site, he spied a pile of PEX tubing. “It wasn’t a stroke of genius,” he explained, “It looked like a pile of hoops.” Dizzy says he grabbed some of the tubing, duct-taped it together, and made some hoops for his new String Cheese buddies, a group that had little else going for them at the time. By 1993, the band had a few big gigs booked and Dizzy says they asked him to come along. And, of course, he brought his hoops. At the first tour show, Dizzy explained that the band passed out the five first larger hoops that he’d made for the occasion. Dizzy brought eight of his own. All but two of them disappeared, of course.

Dizzy’s first hoops were made of PEX, and he still uses it today, making them with a 38” diameter. But he had a crush on a girl, a crush that inspired him to bust two 38” hoops open, put them together, and attempt the first tandem hooping experience. It’s a lovely story, and still a part of his act that, all these years later, he performs to the biggest applause.

But Paul gives credit to someone else for making the first polyethylene pipe hoops. The credit for the black irrigation tubing that is considered the standard nowadays, Paul attributes to the early String Cheese roadie/manager named “John” who came up with those sometime in 1994. By Fall of 1995, says Paul, String Cheese was handing out 50-100 hoops per show! He also said that Betty Shurin of Betty Hoops (Aspen, CO) and Marygoround (New Orleans, LA) were already taking the hoop to an aesthetic and functional level. Dizzy says he was trying to spray paint and “pen” the hoops when Betty was busy making fabric covers for them. Dizzy says he finally settled on vinyl taping.

{Editor’s Note: According to Betty Shurin though, she first discovered hooping at a String Cheese show in 1998. – Philo}

Jason Strauss And, I guess, the rest is history. Except… neither String Cheese nor Dizzy taught the world to make adult-sized polyethylene hoops. Jason Strauss (pictured) did. At a Cheese show, he mentally recorded the look and feel of the hoops the Cheesers were hooping with. When he came home, he worked it out, and on December 28, 2001, Jason posted the very first online instructions for making a hoop. (I made my first hoops from these instructions in summer 2002). He’s tweaked them over the years, but they remain largely the same. If you’ve made a hoop, or bought one, it’s probably due to Jason Unbound’s online instructions.

In April 2003, Jason was invited to a party in Oakland, California, and he brought several hoops. As circumstance would have it, Amy LeBlanc, Ariel Meadow-Stallings, Philo Hagen and Vera Fleischer (who along with Jason were the five original hooping.org co-founders) were there as well. That night, Philo and Vera proclaimed they would start Bay Area Hoopers and they did the following day. The next night Philo began work on Hooping.org, inviting Jason and the others to join him. Prior to Hooping.org, there was little online about the hoop, other than Jason’s instructions and Anah and Betty’s web sites. Meanwhile, Spiral and Stefan were introducing the beginnnings of hoopdance to North Carolina and New York.

I think we can agree that it’s important we know our history. This version is based on first-hand accounts. If you’re taking the hoop up today, in the midst of ubiquitous online tutorials and a world full of hoop superstars, I want you to know that you come from good stock. You learned from hoopers that learned from hoopers that learned from hoopers. We stand on the shoulders of greats.

How did hooping jump the pond? And/or did it, really?  In the UK, one woman claims she received a remarkable vision. That’s an even more incredible story. Stay tuned to hooping.org.

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Lara Eastburn Lara Eastburn has been dancing in meadows and singing with the moon while spinning in circles for eons at Superhooper.org. Beyond commenting here, you can also discuss this and other topics related to the Hooposophy for living in Hooping.org’s Hooposophy Group and Gorum. Lara is also the planting and gardening force behind discovering our hooping community roots: The Hooping Family Tree Project.

18 thoughts on “The Legend of the Hoop That Started a Revolution

  1. Great article, Lara! I love that you put the details together since so many different components were out there but not in any kind of timeline. Now we know who to thank for this wonderful part of our lives.

  2. Interesting to read this angle of hoop history. Personally I came in to hooping from a love of circus and new nothing about the club/band side of things. There was a circus performer in the 80s that really inspired me using aluminum hoops, can’t remember her name right now only the vid of her act. I saw my first hoop in a juggling/circus store and the few classes I took were from circus performers/students. I’d love to see a circus hooping history too.

  3. I remember many early cheese shows where I saw hoopers. I know that SCI was hooper friendly type show, but I did not know just how influential the band itself was in the manifestation of hooping as we know it. All these years later I finally started hooping seriously about 6 months ago. I loved watching the hoop dancers at shows and once I started doing I realized how much fun it is, and how much you can express yourself; all while getting a workout. Now I know the history and I appreciate it so much as a huge cheese fan. I miss SCI. But I love hooping. Great article.

  4. Oh thanks so much Lara, great content. I always start my brief hoop history lesson with “legend has it that during a Sting Cheese concert…..”. Now I have so much more to share with my classes now.
    We always want to know just where it is we come from.

    1. Ariel! You were the first to truly introduce hooping to me (at least in words through Offbeat Bride). I didn’t really get it until I saw a video a few months later and now I’m an addict. 😀 Did my first street performances this past weekend.

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