Monday, January 25, 2010

Hula HoopLa!

New hula hooping group meets Thursdays; Nelson talks with world record hooper 'Dizzy Hips'

Hula-hoops are back and they aren't just for kids anymore. The hula hoop revival officially hit Juneau with the emergence of a group of hoopers called HoopLa!

Carolyn Bergstrom watched her friend Heather Ridgway hula hoop in a hoop off during an intermission at last year's Alaska Folk Festival event. Ridgway got the hoop over her head, and Bergstrom, impressed, gave Ridgway a how-to-hula hoop video and two hoops.

Ridgway invited friend Valerie Snyder over to try them out. They loved it, but it was a little crowded in her home. The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council said they could use the main room to practice so more friends joined them. They projected the instructional video on the wall.

It was summer weather, so they started hooping on the lawn of the JAHC, and friends and some passer-bys joined them. It caught on.

This recent adult hula hoop revival started nationally in a similar grassroots fashion.

World record hula hooper Paul "Dizzy Hips" Blair, who'll be performing at the Olympics in Vancouver next month, started hooping a large homemade hula hoop at a "String Cheese Incident" concert ( in Telluride, Colo.

"The band noticed me and asked me to make five hula hoops for them," Blair said from his Idaho home.

Soon the band, credited with the hula hoop revival, was giving hundreds of hoops away at concerts. Known for themed concerts and visual effects, they even had a Halloween show called "Hulaween."

Hula hooping also is good exercise. In Washington, First Lady Michelle Obama made national news when she hula hooped 142 revolutions before she dropped it at the Healthy Kid Fair in October.

In Juneau, after kids and a gravel driveway at an office party destroyed the two hula hoops Bergstrom loaned Ridgway, she looked online for a hula hoop recipe. She bought materials for eight hoops at the hardware store, then festive decorative tape.

"I had to have the colorful tape," Ridgway said. She replaced Bergstrom's hoops and shared the remainder with the group.

Amy McCormick and Valerie Snyder are part of the core HoopLa! group.

"I met new people and learned a fun skill," said Snyder, who didn't know how to hula hoop before last June and now uses it as her primary exercise.

Bob McCormick, the only male of the group so far, tagged along with his wife and actually shed some blood during one freak hooping trick accident involving his ear.

Personally, I found myself drawn to hula hoop performances by Dizzy Hips last summer at his gig at the San Juan Island County Fair. Dizzy, a hooper from age 5 who held a world record of 197 revolutions per minute, was swirling everything from a tiny hula hoop to a hundred pound tractor tire twice a day.

Motivated by his steel core, I decided to start hooping too. Dizzy gave my kids and I private lessons and made me a custom designed hoop made of heavy construction PVC pipe. It bruised my whole torso, but I didn't care.

Waving to Dizzy as his natural gas powered RV headed off to Burning Man, I felt as empty as the littered deserted fair grounds we stood in - the lone hooper. It didn't last long.

Overhearing my dinner conversation, a waitress told me about, a Web site that posts video of new hula hooping tricks weekly. I witnessed hoop dancing at an alternative fair in Friday Harbor and a yoga retreat in Colorado. Hoopers were everywhere.

My hoop almost didn't make it back to Juneau because security at Sea-Tac was unable to stuff it through the X-ray. They eventually determined we were a traveling circus family, opened the hoop to dump all the noise beans, and waved us through.

Hooping alone at Cope Park while playing ball with my dog, Snyder approached me and told me about the group HoopLa! I showed up to the Juneau Arts and Culture Center on Thursday night to witness a group of harmonious hoopers who were laughing, sharing tricks and telling stories. Hoops were flying and crashing, a baby cried, yet everyone seemed almost meditative.

HoopLa!, performing under their stage name "Arctic Circle," will make their first public performance in this year's Cirque de Pluie themed Wearable Art Extravaganza, on Feb. 13 and 14 at Centennial Hall, and will do a workshop for the Bartlett Hospital Foundation's Women's Day on Jan. 30.

If you want to try hooping, HoopLa! meets from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays at the JAHC.

• Courtney Nelson is a Juneau resident breaking it down with sassy, sensible truths. She can be reached at

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