Hooping can be a great cardio workout

April 29, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Stephanie Connell of Shepherdstown, W.Va., hoops for exercise and meditation. She is part of a hooping business and has been selected to perform with a group of hoopsters at a large motorcycle festival in South Dakota.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff photographer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. Va. — It's the latest spin on dance and fitness.

It's hooping and, yes, it involves the iconic toy from the 1950s.

But it's no longer child's play.

Today's grown-up hoops help tone the body and the mind.

It's a combination of athleticism and holistic health — and people all over the world are giving it a twirl.

In Shepherdstown, 24-year-old Stephanie Connell has been hooping for about three years. She said she was introduced to the activity by her mother, Melody Robinson.

Connell said she became interested in the workout as a way to improve her outlook on life.

"Before I started hooping, I was very shy and anxious, depressed a lot of the time," Connell said. "A huge transformation occurred in my emotional and mental states during the first year. I began to feel good about my body, about myself and my accomplishments. It really helped me get over some of my fears and build much needed confidence."

Today, Connell and her mother own a hooping business —  Boomtown Hoops.

"Our goal is to introduce people of all ages, genders and body types to hooping and spread the joy it has brought into our lives," she said.

When she is not hooping, Connell said she works part-time at Fed Ex. She has two children, ages 5 and 3, and is studying to be a certified personal trainer.

Connell said she and her mother take their hoops out into the community and teach others how to use them, often through performances.

They have participated in school health fairs, family wellness programs, music festivals and fairs. They also offer workshops and classes.

While hula hooping in the ‘50s was all about fun, today's hooping, Connell said, is influenced by rhythmic gymnastics, Native American hoop dance, circus hooping and object manipulation.

Hoopers combine a series of tricks into a rhythmic motion, using all parts of their bodies to move the hoop and play with the space both inside and outside the circle, she said.

However, the hoops are not the lighweight plastic varieties from Wham-O. They're larger and heavier, which makes it easy to keep the hoop in rotation. 

"The larger the hoop, the longer it takes to make a rotation and make contact with your body so you don't have to move as fast," Connell explained. "I commonly hear of adults going out to the store and buying a child's hula hoop and not being able to do it. That is simply because the hoop is too small."

The meaning of hooping varies from individual to individual, Connell said.

"Some use it for exercise, some as a form of dance, some for meditation and a way to center themselves. One thing is for sure. It is all of these things to me," she said.

As an exercise, Connell said hooping is a core stabilizing, fat burning, cardio workout that strengthens and tones muscles, improves posture, balance and coordination. It also can relieve stress and build body awareness and confidence.

Connell said it is low impact and can be enjoyed by people of all ages and body types.

As a dance, it gives people — even those who think they can't dance — a way to connect with music, she said.

"But, for me, it gives me a way to be free and to truly be lost in the flow and to react by feeling and not thinking.  This is what keeps me coming back," she shared. "It's why I keep learning and practicing  — so I can have moments of freedom and flow."

As a meditation, Connell said, "I feel connected to the Divine, God, the universe, whatever you wish to call it. Many things in our world and universe run in spirals, like the planets, our DNA, sea shells. Hooping helps me tap into this. It's like my way of connecting with God."

Connell said there are at least a dozen people in her area who hoop.

Once a person tries it, she said, "it's so much fun. I have probably only missed 30 days in three years where I have not picked up my hoop at all. I can always count on hooping to lift my spirits when I'm down, to express myself creatively, to feel playful and young."

Hooping also keeps her mind busy and away from stressful thoughts.

"I couldn't find healing in modern medicine or therapists. But I found it and maintain general good health and well being through hooping," she said.

Along with teaching classes and hooping for fitness, Connell said she is part of a performance group called the Astral Rhythm Dancers.

"Right now, it is a group of five multitalented ladies who perform choreographed and improvised dances with a variety of skill toys," she said. "We are hoopers and also fire dancers, performing night shows with fire and light."

Connell said they have appeared at numerous fairs and festivals, and will be performing at one of the largest music festivals — the Legendary Buffalo Chip festival during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August. Last year, the event drew 600,000 people.

Astral Rhythm Dancers is currently looking for sponsors and trying to raise money for their trip, she said. 

Recently, Connell participated in Hooping Idol, a planet-wide search for the next great hooper star.

It is organized and hosted by, which, she said, is a great source for learning about hooping, sharing hoop stories and ideas through videos, photographs and blogs.

Connell said every aspect of the contest was online, through videos and blogs.

"To enter, you had to send a casting call video," she explained. "Entrants were asked to talk about who they were and tell their hooping story. I entered my video and was among about 20 other hooping idol hopefuls chosen to move to the finals."

Each week, contestants were given a new challenge theme for their hoop video. The public then voted and each week there was an elimination.

"I made it to the top 10 and was in the bottom three and did not move on," Connell said. "However heartbroken, I am grateful for the experience and proud of making it to the top 10 with great hoopers from across the world competing."

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