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Hula hoop training comes full circle

Gina DeFreitas (front) of Melrose keeps the hoop circling high above the head.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Gina DeFreitas (front) of Melrose keeps the hoop circling high above the head.

A series exploring Boston’s most unique fitness classes by someone who hates fitness classes.

Hula Hooping was a summertime staple in our neighborhood growing up, as I’m certain it was for many.

So when I hear about a Hoop Fitness class at the Cambridge Dance Complex, I can’t sign up fast enough. I’ve been on the hunt for unique fitness classes all over town and by the sound of it, this one fits the bill.

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We start with the most basic of moves: keeping the hoop up. It takes me a few tries to get my rhythm back. I calculate in my head and try to remember the last time I did this. It’s possible that it’s been 20 years. I’m not as good as I remember.

Once we’re able to keep our hoops afloat one way, the instructor challenges us to send the hoop in the opposite direction. It takes a lot of concentration on my part to send it clockwise. Turns out I’m a counterclockwise kind of girl.

The physics of hooping is pretty simple: Rock your hips forward and back to keep the hoop circling your waist. When the hoop starts to drop, increase your speed to get the hoop to creep back up.

Hooping makes you pay attention to your body: where it is in space and how it moves. The measured rhythm is soothing, almost meditative. That is, if you don’t keep dropping your hoop as I did.

Hoop toys have been around for centuries, but the modern, plastic Hula Hoop as we know it was invented in 1958 by Arthur K. Melin and Richard Knerr. The craze that followed propelled the Hula Hoop to cultural icon status — it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999.

Karla Hawkins of Hanover and classmates work on keeping the hoop up.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Karla Hawkins of Hanover and classmates work on keeping the hoop up.

In the past decade or so, modern hooping has taken on a new identity thanks to its popularity at music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Burning Man. Gone are the plastic children’s toys and in their place are denser and heavier hoops, usually made from polyethylene or polypropylene tubing and wrapped in a plastic or fabric tape.

Our instructor goes by the name Lolli Hoops, though that’s not her real name. By day, she’s a pediatric occupational therapist and prefers to protect her identity to keep her day job and extracurricular pursuits separate.

Lolli tells me she first became interested in hooping by way of the rave and festival scene, which led her to start the Boston Hoop Troop in 2003. Classes followed two years later. She also helps run Alternatease, a local burlesque festival in Boston.

You’d think hula hooping, burlesque dancing, and pediatric occupational therapy might not have a lot in common, but you’d be wrong.

“I’m lucky in that everything I do revolves around play and movement,” she says. “I teach kids movement all day and I teach adults movement at night.”

Once we’ve managed the most basic form of hooping, Lolli starts to build on our skills. She teaches us how to keep the hoop circling high above our heads using just a hand. You must rotate your body with the hoop to encourage momentum, and then keep the hoop aloft with just the upper part of your hand: above the thumb, under the knuckles. We pass it back and forth from hand to hand.

There are about a dozen people in the class, all women, and they represent a wide range of ages. I catch some regulars out of the corner of my eye; their graceful, fluid hooping is something to strive for.

Sarah Liebowitz of Somerville at Cambridge Dance Complex.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Sarah Liebowitz of Somerville at Cambridge Dance Complex.

My favorite trick is when we learn to transfer the hoop from hand to waist and then up over our head again. Lolli is able to break down each of the steps so that everyone in the class has it mastered in just one hour.

Lolli teaches hoop classes in three different locations: in addition to the Cambridge Dance Complex, there are classes at Esh Circus Arts and the Center for the Arts at the Armory, both in Somerville. The one at the Cambridge Dance Complex is more about how to use the hoop with your body as a sort of dance, while other classes include more of a fitness focus.

It’s not a grueling workout, which is a good thing. I’ve been testing out unique fitness classes for the past week and I’m sore. Hooping is gentle and low-impact.

The repetition of movement isn’t without its benefits though. Over time, I can see how a regular hoop class could help tone one’s middle, arms, and hips. I certainly feel a tightness in my shoulders and abs the next day, but it’s slight and doesn’t wipe me out. Mostly, it was just fun.

Boston Hoop Troop

www.bostonhooptroop.com, Thursdays at Cambridge Dance Complex, 7:30-8:30 p.m. (requires registration), $45 for the series, $15 for drop-in

Nicole Cammorata can be reached at nicolecammorata@
gmail.com.
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