Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hooping the Night Away

In my world, there are often lulls in the action for all involved. During them, it's not uncommon to see a member of the crew sitting quietly by themselves. Most spend the time staring at their smartphones, catching up on email or surfing the web. Some bring a book, or read the newspaper. Colleen was – well – what was she doing? While it looked like knitting, on closer inspection it involved wires and tubing and LED lights. I had to ask, and the answer was not what I was expecting: she was making lighted hula hoops.

That's because Colleen has a company called Hyperbola dedicated to world of hooping. ("Unfortunately, it sounds a lot like 'pooping' when you say it fast. I have gotten some strange looks from people who ask what I do when I forget to enunciate.") She got interested in hooping after a friend she met in Las Vegas on a job invited her to a poi-spinning gig. She explained: "Poi is a Maori performance art originating in New Zealand which uses weighted balls on long strings swung around your body, and are often lit on fire. I am (still) a very bad poi-spinner." But a cousin of poi-spinning is hooping, and it turns out she was (and is) a very good hoop spinner. And so an interest turned into a hobby turned into a business.

Coleen's background in music and dance was a natural fit for twirling a ring around your body. While the basic idea is no different from when you swung a cheap plastic Wham-O model around your waist as a kid, more recently it has been raised to an art form and formal physical fitness discipline, helped along by things such as the Zumba craze. Such well known groups as Cirque du Soleil have integrated it into their shows. And it has even achieved the ultimate in validation, as it is a regular feature of the Rhythmic Gymnastics event at the Olympics.

Colleen has slowly grown the business, though it's hardly full time yet. As a certified instructor, she teaches classes on hooping as part of an overall active and healthy lifestyle. She occasionally does performances and events, often demoing her custom product. And that's what I saw her working on that day: constructing and selling a professional grade piece of equipment, including weighted ones of various sizes and colors, as well as a line that has LED lights, perfect for hooping the night away.

But the question comes of what else can you do other than roll it down the street with a stick or swing one around to a Chubby Checker song. Watch Colleen (and others) in YouTube performances, and you can see how far it can go. To be sure, there are those who can twirl it effortlessly, around not only their waists, but their arms, legs and necks, transitioning from one to the other almost magically. But it's more than that. In one video featuring Colleen called "Laid to Rest," she is shot in a cemetery mostly in silhouette. With a slow, building yet haunting soundtrack from an English band called Dusky that sounds like an electro pop version of Kenny Rankin, it looks less like dance then kinetic sculpture, as she twirls and sweeps the hoop up and around, creating an optical illusion of a rotating circle that stands out against a blue sky. There's something simultaneously relaxing and mesmerizing in the movement.

Right now Hyperbola is a sideline, but Colleen is seeing how far she can take it. During her busy summer season, she makes and sells a lot of hoops at festivals, fairs and the like. Year round she holds classes, teaching and the spreading the gospel of hooping. Overall, Colleen says her goals are several: "I want to share and help others achieve some of the benefits I have reaped from hooping, like a better awareness of my body and how I need to care for it. There's also the self-discipline and structure of practice, and a sense that everything I do is a journey TOWARD but never all the way TO perfection. And it's great connecting with a community of like-minded people that make me love all of my silly ‘faults' and insecurities." But the real kicker? "Hooping is FUN; just try to be sad when you're hooping!"


Marc Wollin of Bedford was never really good at hula hoops. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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