by Jenny Hill
Imagine 700 kids hula hooping all at the same time. Sounds impossible, right? But recently at the Sacramento Start program in Sacramento, California, USA, that’s exactly what happened. It was truly a mob of kids and hoops – 700 of them to be exact! Sacramento Start, an after school program, had contacted Kellee McQuinn at KidTribe to develop a routine with the hoop that would work with their summertime curriculum theme which was “Through the Decades.” She developed a mix of music that highlighted some of the best songs throughout the time periods, created a hoop routine, taught the teachers, who then shared the routine with their students. In the end everyone came together and performed the routine at a hoop mob event attended by senators, the mayor, and plenty of others!
The hula hoop event, learning the routine and performing it, not only helped the Sacramento Start program comply with their Physical Education grant, it brought a lot of PR to the program and to after school programs in general. “It’s not about performance,” Kellee told Hooping.org, “It’s much more about participation. It’s about enjoying it.”
Being up to her eyeballs in hoops with 700 kids wasn’t something Kellee had envisioned for her life, but when the former actress thought back to the times when she was happiest, they were the moments in her life when she was working with kids. From that realization, a desire to help kids and an interest in preventing childhood obesity, KidTribe was born. Over the years it has grown from dance classes to an after school hip hop dance party (think glow sticks, music, and plenty of energy!), to school assembles with over 3 million kids participating in schools, after-school programs, summer camps, and communities across the US and UK. Hooping plays a big part of it.
A lot of programs out there combatting childhood obesity say things like “The kids are having so much fun they don’t even realize they are exercising!” Kellee doesn’t buy into that. “I want the kids to know that they ARE exercising,” she said, “and to have a positive relationship with their bodies. Exercise doesn’t have to feel like a lame PE class where you just run laps. There’s a lot of humor in our programs. There has to be. It’s silly!”
Kellee says the kids who are athletic are really into hooping, but she most wants to reach the ones who aren’t, the kids who get the suspicious stomach ache right before gym class. “The kids who are on the fringes are the ones I connect with the most,” she said. “In the Ozarks I met this kid I called Einstein, because he kept answering all the questions we asked really loudly. Instead of correcting him, I said, ‘Dude, you’re smart, like Einstein!’ He came up on stage, and was really into it. The principal pulled me aside afterward and asked if anyone had tipped me off about him. He was the kid who was unable to sit through any assembly before because his behavior was so bad. There he was, hooping in front of the entire school as they chanted, ‘Einstein! Einstein!’”
At KidTribe events and assemblies, the hoop represents engagement and transformation. In an hour long show, kids learn how to warm up with the hoop, skill up with new tricks, play games, laugh, and grow. “When I say grow, you say thrive!” is a lyric to an instructional song Kellee created and uses in the assemblies, and it’s an ear worm with a positive message. “We go from place to place every day. It’s a fully fleshed out show, a fitness frenzy, that incorporates messages about fitness, nutrition, and anti-bullying. I consider 250 kids a small group. We’ve worked with as many as thirty five thousand to sixty thousand in a day.”
There’s a sense of unity that happens within the school with KidTribe programs too. Perhaps that is why they get invited back year after year and as word gets out, their schedule is growing. The good work KidTribe attracted the attention of the White House in 2010, with the first lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative in full swing, and with Michele Obama hula hooping as well it was the perfect fit. Kellee and her crew have been invited back four years in a row to participate in the Annual Easter Egg Roll. The City of Sacramento Parks and Recreation Department offers the Sacramento START free summer and after school programs to elementary school students at 33 schools. Children at the following schools participated in the Hoop Mob event: Golden Empire Elementary, Pony Express Elementary, Tahoe Elementary, John Cabrillo Elementary, Garden Valley Elementary, Del Paso Elementary, Robla Elementary and Glenwood Elementary.
“There’s not a day that goes by when I’m hooping with kids that I don’t cry a little and laugh a lot. To see them so engaged and to see their spirits just break out! I especially love with community health and fitness events that the adults turn into kids as well,” says Kellee. “When I close my eyes, I see so many smiling children’s faces.”
Contributor Jenny Hill is a poet, arts educator, hoop instructor, performer, and encourager at Acts of Jennius. She is editor and book designer for Paper Kite Press, an independent press for poetry. For 38 years of her life, she lived within the safe confines of her head, and then the hoop found her. If you leave your backyard unattended, she might just start a Hoop(oetry) circus there. She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA. She’s also on Facebook.