work it out
On Sunday afternoons at Hot Mama's Cafe on East 6th Street, a group of people gather for what they call “church.” There's no choir, pews or sermon — instead, a large amp plays dance music while men and women with big smiles greet each other while performing both simple and intricate dance moves with hula hoops.
There is a pastor; Michelle Amaranth, and ordained minister, is also jokingly called the “minister of hooping." Like a more traditional church, a sense of camaraderie and peacefulness pervades the space and newcomers are welcomed with open arms.
Hoop Church, as it's officially known, has been hosted by Hot Mama's for about two years now but existed in other spaces for at least three years prior to that. While the hooping community has been around in Austin for almost eight years, it's become more visible over the past three. CultureMap Austin's own launch party had a space for guests to try out hula hoops on the dance floor, and the City of Austin's New Year's Eve celebration featured dancers with lit up hoops entertaining the crowd at Auditorium Shores.
From fitness to circus arts to meditation to choreographed dance, the hooping community in Austin embraces a diversity of desires to pick up a hoop.
While traditional hula hooping is the foundation for this modern trend — think of all of those films of surprised housewives in the 50s slinging a hoop around their waists — this new iteration encompasses a much wider range of intents, movements and rhythms. From fitness to circus arts to meditation to choreographed dance, the hooping community in Austin embraces a diversity of desires to pick up a hoop.
Bethany Lynn Corey, a graduate student at the University of Texas who creates theatre for children under five, says she got into hooping because, “I needed some kind of artistic release and hooping offered me that. I found it to about a great community of people and that keeps me passionate about it.”
When asked why so many other people are also becoming passionate about hooping, she says, “It takes a lot of people back to their childhood in a really fun way and you're allowed to play as an adult.” Hoopers may have serious day jobs but Corey says, “When you come out hooping you may put on gaucho pants and put a flower in your hair... you have an interesting dichotomy [between a day job and hooping].”
Some adults may have embarrassing childhood memories of being forced to wrangle a cheap, flimsy hula hoop around her waist, of it falling again and again, of the sheer frustration of not being able to keep the damn thing up. For those people, the thought of seeking out a hula hoop might seem absurd. Why suffer the humiliation again?
According to hooping enthusiasts, the benefits are enough to outweigh the initial fear. On Hooping.org Genevieve Wachutak states, “There’s a particular joy in hula hooping: feeling the rhythm of the hoop pulling your body around, falling into beat with the music and letting it extend through you into the hoop. Not to mention the health benefits of hooping. It is terrific aerobic exercise, develops core strength, and increases flexibility... hula hooping is also a form of emotional and psychological therapy — as both a stress reliever and in developing a positive self-image.”
The Hooping Life, a new documentary, affirms this. One woman states, “I really think hooping saved my life,” while another woman talks about the hooping program she's set up to serve at-risk youth in her community. This sense of a shared community explains why the hoopers at Hot Mama's call it “church;” in an age of secularism, hooping provides an inclusive, joyful place where people can come together to connect.
Beginner's classes offer novices a safe and non-judgmental introduction to hoop dance. HOOPCiRCLE leads classes at both Galaxy Dance Studio and Alisa's Dance Academy, and Cedar Stevens also offers beginner's classes at the Vortex Theatre's outdoor yard. For those who would like to learn more before trying out a class, www.hooping.org offers information, videos and a how-to guide for making your own hoop.