Reinventing the wheel

Bryhanna Greenough discovers what all the hoop-la is about.

You probably remember the hula hoop. You most likely used one when when you were a kid. Or, more likely, you have a vague recollection of a hula hoop stuffed in the far corner of a shed where the lawnmower was kept, covered in cobwebs and dust.

The mass-produced rings of the past continue to clutter the aisles of large department stores, backyard sheds, and, ultimately, junk heaps. And with their popsicle-bright colours they promise a lot more fun than they can actually deliver.

But the hula hoop goes even farther back in history than your childhood.

Early accounts go as far back as King Tut era Egypt, when grapevines were braided into hoops and twirled around sticks. The ancient Greeks reportedly used hula-style hoops for exercise.

Then hoops resurfaced again in the 14th Century, this time in England. One can even imagine long-haired maidens and men in tights celebrating under the full moon — likely half-cut on grog – and just givin’er with hula hoops.

Alas, some time shortly thereafter, Medieval medics began denouncing the hoop as the root of several evils, including heart attacks and thrown backs. Unfortunately, this all went down a few centuries before Bruegel would have been around to document any of it. I can only imagine what kind of paintings he would have come up with.

Thanks to Burning Man and other arty festivals dotting the summer landscape, hula hooping, which hit as a mass craze in the late 50s, has resurfaced once again as a worthwhile amusement. Online communities are proof of this. In nearly every major centre in Canada and the US, you can find people who identify with the hula hoop… www. hula-hoops.com, www.hooping.org, www.hooperscompendi.us.

What, you may ask, is the big deal?

When people talk about hoops these days, they’re no longer talking about those cheap rounds of plastic. Ordinary enthusiasts have learned to craft their own hoops, and hooping has as a result become an altogether different sport.

The main difference is this: Hooping with a mass-produced hoop can only result in going around and round and round in a perfectly boring circle. Face it, you may as well just jump rope to infinity. Not fun.

On the other hand, a custom made hoop can be both larger and heavier and this is a good thing. The extra centrifugal force especially helps hoopers keep their momentum and maintain control of movement. You can actually slow the hoop right down, and again speed up the revolutions while experimenting with a larger range of rhythms. It allows for more creative expression, and more tricks.

If you like dancing, you’ll love hooping.

It’s easy to make a simple hoop.Here is the basic formula:

Make a trip to a large home supply store and hunt down some PVC tubing designed for backyard irrigation projects. It comes in a variety of weights, but the stuff to look for can be either the 160 psi 3/4” diameter or the 100 psi 1” diameter. You’ll need about twelve feet per hoop. While you’re there pick up an insert connector for each hoop and some colourful electrical tape.

Assembly requires the two PVC (hoop) ends to be coaxed into taking the connector. Loosen the ends with either a blast of hot air from a blow dryer or some hot water. Once you insert the connector you shouldn’t be able to see it at all. If you can keep working the heat until it takes. Seal the join with a strip of tape.

It’s as easy as that. The structural part of your hoop is complete. Now you can decorate the PVC by wrapping it in coloured tape.

If you need some inspiration, check out www.hooping.org. You’ll be sure to find everything from free, step-by-step illustrations to photographic essays on the art and craft of hoop making. You’ll even find instructions for collapsible hoops, similar to tent poles which disconnect. They’re perfect for traveling.

If you’d like a hoop but don’t have the time to make one, just get in touch with Allie Collins, a pioneer of the local hooping scene. Allie makes absolutely beautiful custom hoops, and also teaches hooping lessons. Word on the street is she has the coolest collection of decorative tape around. Reach her by e-mail at hulahooplessons@hotmail.com.

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