Originally published by Standard Issue Magazine in February 2015.
I’ve often thought of hula hooping as the preserve of sexy, cool girls, and watching Grace Jones having a go during a performance at Lattitude Festival a few years back was no exception to this rule. If you’ve ever seen her in action with a hoop, it’s a pretty powerful image of raw, terrifying sexuality. But why not, I thought, surely I could pull off that look?
After my pals quite rightly laughed the campsite down, I forgot about it until I stumbled across a hoop in a discount sportswear superstore. I took it all the way home on the tube feeling like an absolute bellend to find, with bitter disappointment, no matter how hard I thrust (with the raw sexuality of a crushed slug) I couldn’t keep the wretched thing at waist level for even 10 seconds. So it was with some relief when my mate explained the hoop I’d bought was designed for a child of approximately 11 years.
Since then, I bought an appropriately sized hoop for recreational purposes and just practiced quite a lot in the privacy of my own bedroom. I’ve never found it to be remotely effective at “whittling the waist” as the internet will tell you, but it’s a great activity for listening to Jump in the Line or Hips Don’t Lie.
I’ve been aware of these “hula hooping for the purpose of exercise” classes for a while now, and eyed them with some suspicion, sure it looks like fun, but if it’s fun you’re just not working hard enough, right (sometimes, I don’t even know who I am anymore)?
Anna Byrne has been teaching Hulafit for two years now, though she’s been hooping for 10 and teaching tricks & fire hooping for eight. With members of classes dwindling, she decided to make it more about fitness and less about looking like someone from beyond the Thunderdome (my words, not hers), and suddenly her classes were fully booked. It’s certainly busy when I rock up on a Wednesday night, a weighted hoop thrust at me as I’m warned I “may experience some light abdominal bruising”.
We warm up by, well, thrusting our hips a lot – a movement that almost no one can pull off outside the confines of “special times” and one that will serve as an endless source of embarrassment unless completely poleaxed, dancing at a wedding. Even the vague memory of it the next day is, at best, disconcerting. Get used to it, Anna tells us, this is what you’re doing for the next 45 minutes. Although it’s impossible not to laugh at myself, this is a dramatic improvement from the inconsolable humiliation I would’ve felt a year or so ago.
We’re hooping “beanpole” style - feet and hands together, arms above the head, so you’ve actually got to use your core to keep the hoop around your middle and adding resistance to any workout will always cause a bit more pain. The women in the class vary in degrees of skill, one has two hoops on the go, while another is almost in tears with the frustration of it all. In terms of ability, I’m somewhere in the middle, but I’m not really progressing beyond being able to keep it going around my waist. When it drops, there is simply no scooping it back up. There are some intervals for other kinds of conditioning drills of sorts, squats and lunges, but we’re mostly hooping and I’m sweating like a bastard, so I know something’s happening.
You might think that hooping for 45 minutes would get a bit repetitive, but there’s more than one part of the body to hoop with. With some regret, I’m going to have to write about my arse for the third time in a row, because we’re hooping with the derriere now, this is what Anna calls the “mating call”. UNBELIEVEABLY I can do it and that’s all I’ll say on the matter. We also hoop with our chests, which involves thrusting the arms and shoulders almost as if drowning, this I am less effective at, so it’s good to know that a watery death would at least be mercifully brief.
Finally, we’re going hoop while squatting, followed by the limbo – jumping thrusts forward while still hooping. Again, I’m doing it, I’ve mastered it. I should feel like an utter tool, but I’m loving it. Anna partly attributes the popularity of her classes to our repressed national identity – we don’t really like moving our bodies without having a reason to do it. And she’s right - there’s something deeply empowering about shaking my arse, flailing my arms and having a quasi-legitimate reason for listening to Shaggy’s Boombastic.
Jen tried Hula Hooping at Hulafit which is taught at different locations around London five days a week.