By Taylor Bromante
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Try to recall the last time you attempted to keep a hula hoop circling around your midsection. You might have been in grade school, bewildered as to why it kept falling down while other children could constantly keep it rotating. Or you might have picked up a child’s hula hoop, wondering if you could finally master it now that you have become more coordinated.
The infamous plastic circle that we once knew as a common toy from our childhood is now being twirled, flipped and tossed by millions, not just around the waste, and not just for gym class.
“A hula hoop in general has inertia,” said Betty Shurin, professional Hoop Core™ trainer and five-time Guinness Book of World Records athlete. “The person feels this and the body responds by continuing to move. This means that the hoop actually becomes a dance partner.”
Shurin spends her days teaching Hoop Core™ classes, shipping hoop and DVD orders, having FaceTime sessions, planning her next yoga hoop retreats, teaching workshops and entertaining at private parties and public events.
“I love sharing that moment of Zen,” Shurin said. “When someone who tries to convince me that they can never hoop, learns in the first few minutes.”
Being one of the first hoop teachers in the US, Shurin now utilizes her skills to give to others. She volunteers, teaches and donates hula hoops each year to hospitals, foster homes and schools. She also fundraises for a different charity for each race that she enters while setting a new record.
“In a culture where looking a certain way in your body and your performance is the focus, I love bringing back the fundamental aspects to this sport,” Shurin said. “Some friends say that they have learned to manage their stress, calm their mind, become better athletes, relieve chronic pain and heal from abuse. I say that they have given me the gift of feeling like I’ve done something valuable in my life.”
The main benefits of Hoop Core™ include alignment of the body, spinal decompression, improved agility in joints, cardio-respiratory strength, ability to release trauma, boosted confidence, mental focus and much, much more. Nevertheless, others use hula hooping as their chief form of expression.
“Hooping was such an important aspect of my life when I first moved to California and knew absolutely no one,” said Paige Sinicrope, 24, of Humboldt, California. “It helped me to learn to love myself and accept my body and mind, and have faith in my unknown journey.”
Sinicrope has a little over 4,000 followers on Instagram, where she posts several videos of her doing advanced tricks with a hula hoop to playful music –and making it look entirely too easy.
“It’s proven to be a very meditative and positive practice in my life in which I find total relaxation,” Sinicrope said. “It’s a hobby which requires time, dedication, passion, creativity and persistence. It doesn’t have any less value than any other hobby.”
Communal hooping events and “fire flows” are held on the beach in the Humboldt area, where many can meet other hoopers and flow artists.
“I believe hooping can make you feel more connected to the music you are listening to and help you explore different dance moves in a myriad of ways,” Sinicrope said. “Movement therapy, like flow art, is really helping a number of young and old people to find new ways of personal self-expression.”
Sinicrope has taught hoop workshops at music festivals and performed during a live act on stage at Emissions Festival 2014. She inspires many through her distinctive use of isolations and swift movement.
The hooping craze has captivated many, including Justin Munoz, who will often wake up at 7 a.m. to start his day by hooping.
“My favorite part about hooping is discovering my flow and putting originality behind it, said Munoz, 23, of Stafford, Virginia. “I always like to think outside of the box so I do acro-hooping, which is hooping combined with acrobatics.”
Justin has also documented his three-year-long hoop journey by using social media to post videos of his progress and receive feedback from fellow hoopers.
“Hooping has helped me discover myself and fight with depression,” Munoz said. “Whenever there’s something on my mind, I go out and hoop and feel so much better. I can just bottle my emotions in this little circular object. People don’t realize hooping can make you happy and help you a lot.”
Munoz likes the idea of being a performer and having people idolize his style. However, belonging to the hooper community epitomizes alliance, kindness and modesty.
“I know a couple of hoopers who think it’s always a competition,” Munoz said. “That’s what hurts the community. We’re not all about judging, being superior and critiquing. We just guide others and give them hope. We push forward.”
Hoopers not only achieve a social connection with the activity, they also gain patience, persistence and focus.
“I didn’t think I would find my flow,” Munoz said. “It works as long as you put the passion and the mind to it. You’ll be surprised how much you blossom.”
While there are many different types of hooping, such as fitness hooping, acro-hooping, and hoopga (hoop yoga), there are also many styles of flow art that involve similar expressive concepts.
“There is no limit,” Munoz said. “People have uniqueness to their flow that no one else does. You create your own.”
Flow art has been emerging in the shadow of the electronic dance music or EDM scene for the past couple of years, but also serves as a daily hobby for some and even a group activity for others.
“Flow art is being able to listen to music and interpret in a visual way,” said JT Frenaye, president of Flow Art Club at Towson University. “People join to expand, learn more about the art and be able to express with other people who have similar tastes.”
Types of flow art include hula hooping, gloving, orbiting, contact staff, levitation wand, poi and more.
“My appreciation for music has grown,” Frenaye said. “Instead of just listening to a song you kind of listen for different parts and really hear how it progresses, the buildup and the breakdown of all the beats.”
Frenaye was given a free ticket to the festival TomorrowWorld this September from the gloving company Emazing Lights. They sent him along with five other glovers and four orbiters to go to the festival and have a blast practicing flow art.
“I’m not as shy as I thought I was,” Frenaye said. “Everybody will tell you they can see progression in themselves from when they started. Not only in flow arts but as a person in general. If you’re not helping someone, you’re giving someone a show and people enjoy that.”
The Flow Arts Club at Towson meets once a week on campus and offers a relaxed setting where people can hang out, socialize, practice and exchange skills.
“If you see a Glover in the middle of the day playing with his hands and a bunch of hoopers playing music, it’s a little weird,” Frenaye said. “It absolutely is, but it’s for the simple fact that they don’t know what it is and the community that surrounds it. We want to get rid of that weirdness.”
Several events have shown support for the flow art community by devoting time to workshops and performances. Electric Forest in Rothbury Michigan assembles a Hoop Troupe that performs a collective routine during the festival. Suwannee Hulaween in Suwannee, Florida, is a music festival representing the flow art community through workshops, performances and emphasis on hula hooping.
“Flow arts is a completely free dance/art form,” said Brooke Ramsay, president of Towson Hoop Club. “You can do whatever you want, there aren’t any rules, no right or wrong way to do things. It’s a fun self-building experience for the mind and body.”
The Towson Hoop Club has performed at on-campus events and meets weekly to practice, bond and explore new moves. The club is open to the public and accepts everyone –from people with no experience, to beginners, to experts. The group mirrors the flow art community’s sense of welcoming acceptance.
“It is a prop-dance form, but still a dance,” Ramsay said. “The artist has total creative freedom and that’s my favorite thing about it.”
With hooping and flow art becoming so popular, the number of vendors is on the rise and the variety of props one can buy is somewhat unbelievable. One can purchase different color schemed lights for their gloves, LED poi pairs that have different settings and even LED or fire lit hula hoops.
“Electric Forest 2013 was the first time I saw anyone hoop and it blew me away,” said Danielle Pylant, co-owner of Circle Hoops. “There weren’t many girls hooping then, I saw one out of 100 girls hooping and now it’s one out of every five girls. That definitely inspired me, right when I got home I ordered one.”
Circle Hoops is owned by Pylant and Paul Young, who live in Philadephia together. Like other hoop vendors, they have become extremely busy shipping out quality hoops to loyal customers.
“We donate one dollar for every hoop sold for nonprofit organizations all over the world,” Pylant said. “We get many suggestions from customers. We’ve donated a lot, after this month it will be almost $1,000.”
Danielle and Paul both enjoy practicing flow arts and are grateful to have their income stem from something they both love.
“It’s growing so rapid it’s crazy,” Pylant said. “People from other generations don’t understand, my dad and my uncle don’t believe we are making a living selling hoops. Some people think of it as childish I guess but we’ve seen our business grow every day.”
Circle Hoops and other hoop vendors sponsor avid hoopers who have a passion for the activity and will gladly promote the company.
“We wanna sponsor hoopers who are growing,” Pylant said. “We’ve met a few people through the business. It’s cool to bring a smile to people’s faces all the time.”
Just like other flow artists, the couple has embarked on their own journeys as well aside from making custom hula hoops. Danielle is a hooper and Paul spins poi.
“I’ve heard a million stories,” Pylant said. “I’ve seen stories of hooping getting people back in shape or getting rid of their anxiety.”
“Every day is different,” Young said. “We learn through and from each other. It really is great.”
So if you happen to see someone hula hooping on the beach next time you take a vacation, or at the park when you take your dog for a walk, consider the great deal of passion and release behind that plastic circle you once knew as a child. It just may be driving someone’s life.