The Hooper Versus Gravity

Falling Apple [This week columnist Lara Eastburn takes on gravity and wins.]

by Lara Eastburn

“I just can’t keep it up.” Anyone that’s handed a hoop to enough first-time hoopers has encountered this objection at least once. And sure enough, as they demonstrate for you, they will give that baby a nice good spin, and watch defiantly as it wobbles, with much fanfare, to the ground. So we begin to eliminate the most possible offenders — a bulky jacket or cell phone, a big ol’ Texan belt buckle — while switching out the “problem” hoop with a bigger one, enthusiastically encouraging our new friend to give it another go. Hoop is touching the back of the waist, check. Hoop is on a good, flat plane, check. Now, go! The abundant and hopeful circle orbits twice, maybe three times, then crashes and burns. Aaack! You’ve got maybe 30 seconds to problem-solve, or your new prodigy may give up forever. Panic. Your ‘everybody can hoop!’ mantra is on thin ice. Or is it? What’s going on?!

Slower, Lower. Nine times out of ten, if the problem isn’t the hoop’s size, I’ll notice that my new teacher (which is, for very good reason, how I prefer to think of those I’m introducing to the hoop), isn’t moving much, enough, or at all, after they give the hoop that first, big push. “Now, you’re going to have to move a bit to keep it up,” I say, smiling, hoping the next song to play has a faster tempo or a dirtier beat. “Slower, Lower. If you feel the hoop falling, you’ve slowed down. Give it another good push with your body. Keep moving. Your hoop WANTS to go around, but you’ll have to help it some.” And … bam! Five, then ten seconds of glorious success, a hootin’ and a hollerin’ from the both of us, followed by twenty seconds of momentum, then a whole song, and finally, that blissful smile of deep satisfaction crawls across the lips that professed defeat only moments prior.

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion with the same speed and the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Newton’s first law of physics. For us, that pesky, meddling force is almost always gravity. We hoopers must enable our hoop’s triumphant victory over the omnipresent and all-powerful force of gravity each time we pick it up to give it a whirl. We do this by providing our glittery dance partner with momentum, friction, and acceleration. We provide the hoop with constant momentum by moving our salt-shakers, and friction as it makes contact with our bodies. Together, these consistently accelerate the hoop as the direction changes. When hoopers are first learning, we often use two points of contact — front and back, or side-to-side – to accomplish this. Somewhere along the way, we learn to smooth these movements out, using any number of contact points around our waists, and eventually any part of the body. Less effort, or force, is then required from us to maintain the hoop’s orbit, and we begin to feel the first hints of what we may come to call “flow!”

Centripetal force. Cool, right? But here’s my favorite tidbit from this week’s research into the physics of circular movement. Turns out, the average human confuses centripetal force (that moves an object toward the center) with centrifugal force (that moves an object away from the center). And it’s not just semantics. Our senses tell us that we are moving, or pushing, the hoop away from our bodies with each movement. Not so – as I learned from an amusing little web page that illustrates the point with the swinging of a toy wombat on a string around one’s head. (Yes, really). To keep the wombat (or any object) in orbit, they point out, you must continuously pull on the string. As it happens, there’s not really such a thing as centrifugal force. So, no matter how it looks, feels, or seems to us in the center of our hoops, we are always drawing our hoops inward towards the center, towards our bodies.

Now, conceptually, this little piece of information is fascinating. It seems to me no small quibble to think of the hoop’s movement as “toward me,” rather than “away from me.” It has shifted my perspective quite a bit. When I need or want to, I can imagine my body to be “gathering,” instead of “expending, or sending out” the energy created by my hooping.

And I can’t wait to see if this mental trick (and a couple of pointers from ol’ Papa Newton) will prove useful the next time I’m given the opportunity to help a frustrated new hooper. In the meantime, I look forward to my next centripetal spin … and soaking it in.


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

11 thoughts on “The Hooper Versus Gravity

  1. I second Richie on that. Great article Lara. I’m so glad I chose physics over chemistry in highschool. I love that mental image of pulling the string. I remember my teacher explaining that momentum was always directly out and the “yank on the leash” caused slight directional changes all the time to create that imaginary force. I was always one of those “what am I ever going to need math for?” types. Only recently am I beginning to appreciate it for the beautiful art it is.

  2. There is a woman in our village who is very over-weight and doesn’t move much, but every year when I take my hoops to the village fete and encourage people to have a go, she comes up with her little boy and picks up a hoop and says “I can’t do this for toffee” or some such comment. She then throws it around her (wonky), clatters her body about inside it for a moment and then as it falls says something like “I told you I couldn’t do it”. I have tried for years to help her, bigger hoop, better stance, more precise and bigger movements. But she won’t listen to me because she’s still telling herself she can’t do it. And so she can’t. She never changes what she is doing in the way of movement despite my efforts. She is a perfect example of talking herself out of something.

    Perhaps it’s me, but she is the only person I’ve never managed to get to hoop. And she could so do with knowing she could do it. Shame.

    Great article as ever Lara.

    1. Sad story, Sue. Like my hoop teacher, the wonderful Sadie Spins, always says…”say you can or say you can’t, either way you’re right.”

      For me, half the fun of hooping is the failing process. Being instantly good at something is no fun – if we were born perfect, we’d never learn anything! Dropping and throwing the hoop across the room is what makes it so satisfying when you do finally master that trick.

  3. VERY COOL. I always mean to look up the physics of hooping when I’m teaching and then after I get out of class I forget. Thanks for posting this. 🙂

  4. love Love LOVE this article! I’m doing a physics project on my favorite sport. (Hooping’s a sport, right? c; ) This touched on several of the points in my presentation. I especially appreciate the balance of simplicity and informative. You’re awesome! ☮ <3 c:

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