Marawa the Amazing, who is a professional hoopster, is one of the many women who have embraced the way of the hoop in search of fitness and fun.
The hula hoop makes a comeback as the latest cardio workout fad, burning up to 600 calories an hour.
Originating in ancient Greece, whose citizens would fashion hoops from grapevines and use them to exercise the hips, the hoop has gone through many incarnations in the past as a circus prop, 1950s fad and children’s toy. And now, a new generation of hoop activists is putting another spin on hooping, advocating the fun – albeit tricky for some – activity as a serious fitness workout.
Circus hooper Marawa Ibrahim, known professionally as Marawa The Amazing, lives a nomad’s life performing and teaching hula hooping around the world. “Fitness hooping is what I’m really into. Even at circus school, I developed a workout using core muscles to push the hoop,” says Ibrahim, who can spin 133 hoops simultaneously and has appeared on the TV show Britain’s Got Talent.
According to the 32-year-old Australian, anyone, regardless of age or fitness level, can keep the hoop spinning. But choosing the right size hoop is essential. “You can’t hoop with a kid’s hoop. When you were a kid, you were half as tall,” she says, adding that a hoop should reach to the hips, at least. “I used to teach a gym class of overweight women. I made hoops that were almost up to their armpits and they could do it.”
Proper technique also means balance. Even the pros can develop lopsidedness, says Ibrahim, so spin in both directions in order to tone the body evenly, head to toe.
“There definitely is a circus overlay in hoop dance,” says Kelly Strycker, director of Chicago Hoop Dance, a community-based collection of performers, teachers and students who practice hooping as a form of moving meditation similar to yoga, or qigong, the Chinese system of exercise and breath control. She adds that toned muscles and weight loss are common benefits. “It tends to be a fitness workout because of the nature of the movement.”
Strycker says hoop dancing, which includes elements of yoga, attracts mainly women between 25 and 60 who want a fitness routine they actually want to do. Her classes, held at venues including parks and beaches around Chicago, include 20 to 25 minutes of yoga moves, lunges and squats, and hooping for the wrists, hands, shoulders, legs, hips and waists. “The meditative aspect is in the rhythm, the rocking movement that stimulates the heartbeat, the back and forth,” she says.
While it may look silly to some, the health benefits of hooping are backed by science. According to Dr Cedric X Bryant, chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a 2011 ACE-sponsored study found that hooping burns up to 600 calories an hour. “We found that just by the nature of movement it did a pretty effective job,” says Bryant. “The only downside is if one had difficulty mastering movement. But larger hoops reduce the learning curve.”
Ibrahim says a hoop, unlike a trapeze, is portable and fun. “Walk up to any kid and they’ll have a go at it. Everyone’s happy.” — Reuters