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Hooping generally refers to artistic movement and dancing with a hoop (or hoops) used as a prop or dance partner. Hoops can be made of metal, wood or plastic. Hooping combines technical moves and tricks with freestyle or technical dancing, and is typically accompanied by music. In contrast to the classic toy hula hoop, modern hoopers a) use heavier and larger diameter hoops, and b) frequently rotate the hoop around parts of the body other than the waist, including the hips, chest, neck, shoulders, thighs, knees, arms, hands, thumbs, feet and toes. All spaces both within and outside of the hoop can be freely explored. Modern hooping has taken cues from diverse art forms such as rhythmic gymnastics, hip-hop, freestyle dance, fire dance, twirling, and other dance and movement forms.
Hooping is part of the greater spectrum of flow arts, which are playful movement arts involving skill toys that are used to evoke the exploration of dynamic, flowing, and sequential movements. This movement, and the related mind/body state, is referred to as "flow". Technically, hooping is a form of object manipulation and in as much shares some lineage with classical juggling.
In its modern incarnation as an art form, dance form, and exercise modality, the practice is referred to either as hoop dance or simply "hooping". Hoop dance artists commonly refer to themselves, and the greater hoop dance community, as hoopers.
Hoopers generally use handmade hoops crafted from polyethylene (HDPE) or polypropylene (1" or 3/4" or 1/2" diameter) piping and wrapped with colorful tape, which serves the dual purpose of providing decoration and grip. These modern hoops differ from the water-filled cheap plastic toys commonly available for children. The heavier weight of these handmade hoops allows for more controlled movement around the body; the larger diameter and heavier rotational mass allows for both slower rotation, and ease of learning moves such as "portal" tricks, where the hooper steps through the hoop while it is still rotating.
Making hula hoops at home is much cheaper than buying them at a store, so many hoop dancers do.
Children's hoops are typically made of lightweight plastic, have a very small diameter, and are incredibly difficult for most adults to use.
A lighter hoop allows for faster revolutions and more advanced tricks, but also consequently take more skill on the part of the performer.
Typically an adult will begin with a hoop of approximately 40-44" on the inside diameter. While these hoops may seem huge compared to tiny children's hoops, they are typically required for adults to have success and enjoy hoopdance. Many people eventually decrease the size of their hoops. Advanced hoopers typically use a hoop between 30" and 36" on the inside diameter, although some professionals still prefer a 40" (or larger) because it allows them to dance differently than smaller hoops allow.
Fire hoops can be lit on fire (see Fire hooping below), and comprise a plastic hoop with typically four to six spokes radiating outward. The spokes typically extend 6-8 inches from the connection points on the hoop, and are capped with a roll of cotton and Kevlar wicking. This design keeps the fire a fair distance from the hooper's body, although getting burned at some point is a high probability. Making one's own fire hoop and playing with it while burning can be very dangerous. It is recommended that those who want to make their own hoop proceed with caution and take a fire safety class before lighting up.
LED hoops have internal batteries and are lit with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and make mesmerizing patterns when spun at night outdoors or in low light environments. These hoops take advantage of the "persistence of vision" phenomenon which occurs when bright lights are moved at high speeds within the observer's field of vision.
The earliest known incidence of hooping was in ancient Egypt as early as 1000 BC, where children used large hoops made of grape vines, which they rolled along the ground propelled by sticks, or swung around their waists a la the modern hoop. In other parts of the ancient world, hoops were made of stiff grasses as opposed to vine.
In the 14th century, recreational hooping swept across England. The records of doctors at the time attribute numerous dislocated backs and heart attacks to "hooping." The word "hula" became associated with the toy in the early 19th century when British sailors visited the Hawaiian Islands and noted the similarity between "hooping" and traditional hula dancing.
Independently, Native Americans developed their own traditions surrounding the Hoop Dance. Native American Hoop Dance focuses on very rapid moves, and the construction of hoop formations around and about the body. Up to 30 hoops may be used in storytelling rituals to create formations such as the butterfly, the eagle, the snake, and the coyote. Native American hoops are typically of very small diameter (1 to 2.5 feet).
In 1957, an Australian company began manufacturing bamboo hoops for sale in retail stores. This caught the attention of a new California-based toy company by the name of Wham-O, founded by Richard P. Knerr and Arthur K. Melin. In 1958, Knerr and Melin travelled to playgrounds across Southern California, where they gave away free hula hoops and performed hooping demonstrations for the children. From this humble beginning, over 25 million hula hoops were sold in a four-month period.
Over the ensuing years, hula hoop contests were organized across the United States of America, and over 100 million hoops were sold in total.
In the mid-1990s, the jam band The String Cheese Incident began tossing hoops from the stage into the audience and encouraging participants to groove, thus contributing to the modern hooping movement. The annual Burning Man festival has also served as a melting pot and fertile ground for hoopers from all around the world to share their tricks, techniques, and energy. Ubiquitous grassroots "hoop jams" and "convergences" such as Return to Roots Hoop Gathering (Hawley, PA) happen throughout the world almost every month of the year. These meet-ups, as well as various online communities, are the foundations of the hooping subculture.
Native American Hoop Dance has been recognized as a cultural heritage. The most popular Native Hoop Dance competition occurs annually at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Recent competitions have drawn as many as 10,000 spectators.
Generally speaking, either the hoop or the hooper is kept in constant rotational movement, although there are many new styles of hooping that emphasize "isolations" and the "touch" technique. These evolutions of hoopdance focus on moving the hoop through space in ways that are not necessarily in rotation around the body, but rather a point in space.
Costuming has become an important part of the hooping phenomenon. As with any form of dance, dressing in creative ways can be inspiring.
Fire hooping requires the use of special "fire hoops" and, as with all fire dancing, is dangerous and poses a risk of injury.
The construction and weight of the fire hoop, combined with the fact that it is on fire, limits the possible moves, or tricks, to a much smaller gamut than those possible with a standard hoop. Some modern fire hoops have been designed to be much lighter, with smaller diameter tubing and with flexible wick spokes; these tools have begun to close the gap between fire hooping and general hooping trick vocabularies.
It is important that every fire dancer first obtain a lesson in fire safety. Always wear protective clothing made of natural fibers, and always have a "fire safety" (a person with a towel or duvetyne blanket who can extinguish any rogue flames) close by. The "safety" person should be holding the towel or blanket, and paying close attention to the performer.
In recent years hooping has become popularized as a fitness regimen alongside kickboxing, breakdancing and bellydancing. Hoopdance can now be found in gyms, and is often combined with Pilates or yoga disciplines, all of which build strength, balance, and flexibility.
Hooping is widely recognized by health and fitness experts as being a superb form of exercise. Hooping increases muscle tone and strength; it also improves cardiovascular health and burns calories, since it is a type of aerobic exercise. A study by the American Council on Exercise found that a thirty-minute hooping workout burns around 200 calories. Hooping works many muscles in the body and has the potential to build core muscle strength while improving flexibility and balance.