by Philo Hagen
Remember the day when you first discovered the magical world of hooping? Someone probably handed you one a large polyethylene home-made hoop covered in sparkle tape at some music festival. They said, “This ain’t your grandma’s hula hoop”, and they were right. The music was playing, the hoop started spinning, and not only were you surprised after awhile that you were actually hooping successfully, you loved how it moved so deliciously slowly around your body.
In no time you had to have one of those hoops for your very own, and it had some weight to it, some momentum when you gave it a spin, a little girth in your palm. You discovered there was enough room inside your own personal circle that you could dance inside it too – and you not only had a new dance partner, it felt like the hoop was literally responding to and dancing with you. Muscles became sore you didn’t even previously know existed. You dropped a few pounds without even trying, yet it was also so much more than all that. You couldn’t even put it into words. How did you ever live without this big plastic ring in your life?
It’s a story I’ve heard told thousands of times in our community, only these days when a hoopers finds the hooping community online, they usually discover a few things. The girl in that video, well, her hoop sure looked a lot smaller. People sure seemed to like her a lot too. At a later hoop jam or gathering someone may have looked at your hoop and said, “That sure is big” or something to that effect. They may not have intended it sound negative, but it’s hard not to hear it that way, particularly for those of us with body issues who’ve been hearing similar things about size throughout our lives. Over time, if we weren’t careful, we may have even developed a little hoop shame.
Maybe, if you’re like me, you even ended up abandoning that magic circle of plastic that had changed your life forever for something smaller and lighter made from newfangled plastic. After all, they said you could do more tricks with it, right? It might have taken awhile, but you probably got used to your new smaller hoop too, but were you really aware of everything that make that decision fully entailed?
A couple years ago I went to my ye olde pile of hoops and I noticed an old hoop I never used anymore. 1″ polyethylene pipe, 46″ diameter, 125 psi I think, who can remember? But we’re talkin pretty big and kind of heavy. Given that I was once again looking to spin off some unexpected weight again too, I thought why not give the old hoop a spin for half an hour – and I did. Those who are quick to preach the gospel of the ever shrinking hoop often say you get just as much of a workout because you have to move your body faster to keep it going. Well, after a thirty minute session with my old hoop I can safely say with all the love in the world, that sure seems like a load of crap.
Ten minutes in I was sweaty and getting tired. Twenty minutes in I had forgotten muscles screaming at me that were definitely feeling it, and I was feeling like calling it a wrap. Thirty minutes in and with my goal accomplished I concluded my session feeling like I’d not only had a serious workout, I felt like I’d been smacked around a little – and I mean that in a good way. For someone who would quite often crank the tunes and hoop for an hour or two in my studio apartment, I was a little shocked at how out of shape I was. I mean this was a hoop I used to rock hard for two or three hours at a jam, a hoop I would totally throw it freakin down with, and I found myself barely able keep up with the beats per minute of a song that wasn’t even all that fast to begin with.
With the music cranked and hooping away I did come to a number of realizations though, as I so often do while hooping. I remembered the exact moment that caused me to put that hoop down and go smaller. I’d thrown it high into the air at Dolores Park one afternoon and was planning on going straight into a continuous vertical step through. When it came down, however, my hand was just a little out of place and when it hit my thumb, I not only heard the crack, the instant pain that arrived and lasted for four weeks told me that perhaps I wasn’t being all that smart sporting this hoop of wonder and size. Maybe using a larger heavier hoop wasn’t so good after all – and in this particular case that was really a given.
I also realized that night that the timeline related to letting go of that hoop and going smaller directly correlated to the return of my battle with weight loss. How could I have been gaining weight again when I’d been hooping so much? Something I’d previously attributed simply to getting a little older and my metabolism slowing down with age, sure looked to have a previously unrecognized co-factor – down sizing to a smaller and lighter hoop.
It got me thinking about my almost cellular aversion to the term “beginner hoop” that started being tossed for the first time only a few years ago. The idea that the hoop you fall in love with should be tossed aside for something else is an idea and mentality that has been increasingly perpetuated in our community, but by who exactly? Those who are making and selling increasingly smaller hoops? Those who teach off body moves for which having a smaller hoop actually really helps? Skinny bitches who’ve never needed to give hoop fitness a second thought? I’m not sure exactly. I have, however, increasingly seen hoopers saying things on TV news reports and elsewhere like, “Your ideal hoop size will come up to your navel” like it’s some sort of established fact. It’s not. One size hoop will not fit all and if that were the case a great number of hoopers in our community would have never had been able to give it a spin.
At Burning Man a few years ago I ran into someone who had been hooping about as long as I had, too, and when they saw my hoop they said, and I quote, “Are you seriously still using that big ole clunker?” Hmmmm, I realized the probable fracture in my thumb wasn’t the only reason I ultimately down-sized. Peer pressure had something to do with it as well, and as someone who likes to think that he does a pretty good job of thinking for himself, I was a little surprised when I came to that realization and had to acknowledge it.
Going for a smaller hoop may (or may not) cost us some of the fitness benefits, but it may have another not so hot effect as well. Trading in a larger hoop in order to do hand moves like isolations, which are indeed done so much more easily with a smaller hoop, also downsizes the amount of space in our hoop that we previously had to move and dance. As someone who has been watching countless hooping videos daily for years there are hoopers out there that rock a smaller hoop brilliantly. Size matters and their hoop is totally the right size for them. And then there are a number of hoopers out there that I honestly believe were so much more fun and beautiful to watch when their hoop was larger and had more momentum to play with. Sometimes a very small hoop can look proportionately out of tune with a person’s body, and the expression and dance and movement I’ve seen some previously spin to perfection may (or may not) have been sacrificed along the way. Truth be told, I think there are hoopers who were much more impressive two or three years ago and I wonder if they miss their former hooping selves from time to time.
While the hoop may trace back in time hundreds, if not thousands of years, our current world of hooping is still oh so very new. Very few of us who have even been at it for anything close to a decade. In fact, some who may even be identified as leaders in our movement at present have only been in the spin for two or three. The point is that people may say things like they are absolute truths when we really barely even know a few honest to goodness solid facts. Hooping has had one research study and the findings didn’t exactly match what we all were saying at the time. 210 calories burned per half hour of hooping was still great, but it didn’t exactly add up to the 600 or 800 some were saying. There are so many variables to consider as well – like the weight and size of the hoop, skill factor, speed of the hooper, bodyrockin’ vs off body moves, the beats per minute of the music being hooped to. Even getting one set of facts was like watching an episode of Lost where we were finally given a big answer – only to find five more questions pop up as a result.
As someone who is often contacted as “the hooping expert” having been at the helm of hooping.org since 2003, I rarely say things as if they are the 100% gospel truth because we honestly don’t know. When it comes to matters of hoop size though I’d strongly encourage everyone to let go of the idea that smaller is better, that what works for one will not work for all and to love the hoop that is the right size for you and what you want to get out of the experience.
Size does matter. How exactly? We’re not exactly sure. But y’know what? Your old hoop, the one that inspired you on your path in the beginning and has been feeling neglected lately called me to say that it misses you. And whether the two of you get back together full-time or not, there may be certain pleasures and lessons to be learned from that relationship that can only come from spending some quality time together again. Why not give that old favorite hoop a spin and see how it feels for you today, how it feels in terms of a workout, see how it feels in terms of movement and dance. Ultimately, when it comes to the Goldilocks hoop that is just the right size for all of us it’s a matter we all need to decide for ourselves, and do so as the beautiful sparkling individually unique and beautiful hooper that you truly are, and whatever conclusions you come to have a blast rocking’ that hoop.
Philo Hagen is the Co-founder and Managing Editor of Hooping.org. He’s been spinning things up online and off since April 2003. Co-Founder of the Bay Area Hoopers and LA Hoopers hoop groups, Philo has performed internationally and has won Hoopie Awards for Male Hooper of the Year and Video of the Year. He lives in Los Angeles, California, USA.