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Kristina Sutcliffe of O Dance; Image courtesy of Kristina Sutcliffe

Learn To Hoop Dance

That plastic hula-hoop you played with as a kid? It’s actually the key to a holistic, meditative workout.

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Like many who first try hoop dance, I was looking for an enjoyable way to stay fit. Forcing myself to go on a run, attend a kickboxing class, or sweat through circuit drills always felt unsustainable and devoid of any sense of joy.

After watching a mesmerizing hoop dancer at a music festival, I looked it up on the Internet. I found instructions for making my own hoop from PVC piping, and spent hours re-learning how to keep the hoop spinning around my waist before moving on to more complicated tricks I’d pick up from YouTube tutorials. Yes, I lost a little bit of weight, but I began to see that as more of a positive side effect than as a motivation for continuing.

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That was five years ago—and hooping (unlike any other exercise regimen I’ve ever tried) is a practice that’s stuck. Part workout, part meditation, part dance, and part play, it’s been gaining a lot of steam (especially once celebrities like Zooey Deschanel, Beyoncé, and Michelle Obama began touting its waist-whittling benefits). Although hoop dance classes are now offered in both Boulder and Denver and dance hoops are widely available for purchase, it can still be hard to know where to start. I sat down with hoop dance instructor and founder of Boulder’s O Dance, Kristina Sutcliffe, to create a beginner’s guide to getting started with hoop dance.

The Hoop: Before you go stealing your third grader’s hula-hoop, you should know that hooping requires specialty hoops with a larger diameter and heavier weight, which are typically taped for added grip. As hoopers progress and incorporate snappier movements, they typically move toward smaller, lighter hoops over time. Sutcliffe recommends attending a hoop class to try out a variety of sizes and weights before purchasing your own. “The teacher is always going to have hoops to try. I’d say before you buy, get three lessons under your belt. If you start off with something too heavy and you adapt really quickly to it, then you’re going to grow out of it quickly.” But don’t worry—hoops aren’t expensive. With an investment of $30 to $45, you can buy a high-quality hoop for practicing at home, at the park, or wherever. (If you do choose to practice indoors, move all breakable objects to safety. Trust me on that one.) Bonus: When you buy a hoop, you’ll get to customize it with your preference of sparkly, colorful tape. Most hoop dance teachers make hoops, so you won’t have to look too far to track one down. Alternatively, Hoopologie is Colorado-based company that offers gorgeous hoops at inexpensive prices.

The Basics: Though it is possible to learn hooping on your own (especially with the aid of instructional video series like Hoopnotica), the best way to get started is by attending a class. Though surrounding yourself with seasoned hoopers twirling and tossing is an intimidating prospect (especially when you’re struggling to keep it going around your waist), if you avoid class, you’ll miss out on important fundamentals. “People are amazed at the learning curve at the beginning,” says Sutcliffe. Another boon of hoop dance: It’s easy to practice at home. “You wouldn’t typically go home and do my Zumba class, but you could easily go home and practice everything we worked on in hoop class. And the more you work on it the more easy it’s going to be.” Before you know it, breaking, isolating, and barrel rolling will all be a part of your repertoire. And though you can approach hooping with a result-driven mindset, it’s all about enjoying the process. “I try and get people to not take it so seriously, and I mean, it’s a hula hoop, it’s a plastic ring. Every time I bring that up people are like, ‘oh yeah, it’s a toy.’’”

The Dance: Once you’ve gotten some initial moves down, you’re that much closer to finding your “flow,” a term hoopers use to describe the meditative state of pure, fluid movement with the hoop. “Some people start out just to work their core, but they usually find out that hooping is so much more. You start to get a meditative quality out of it if you search that out. Or, maybe you don’t consider yourself a dancer, but when you get inside the hoop, all of the sudden you’re a dancer. It’s what you want it to be—it’s what speaks to you about it.” And with summer in full swing, now’s the time to get outside (don’t forget a portable speaker for tunes) and enjoy the health benefits hooping has to offer.

Ready to get spinning? O Dance offers reasonably priced classes for beginners in Boulder, as well as a once-a-month freestyle hoop jam. Or, if you’re up for a quick road trip, check out Wanderlust Yoga Festival in Aspen/Snowmass on July 2-5. Renowned hoop movement instructor Shakti Sunfire, will be teaching her One Hoop, One Love workshop, which will guide attendees through the basics of hoop dance technique and rhythm.

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