It's being touted as a fitness craze—but to a growing number of hula hoopers, including Leah Troiano, "hooping" is much more than exercise.
"Everybody gets a little something out of hula hooping," said Troiano, a certified hula-hooping instructor. The mother of two, who runs monthly at , says that for her, hooping "is a release—and an amazing expression of what my body can do."
Troiano has been hooping for four years now—and before she got started, she was just as bad at it as many of us. Now, Troiano teaches hooping classes (including recent classes at in Wynnewood), has hooped on CBS3's Morning Show, and owns Loopdihoops, a hula hooping resource for the Main Line.
A 'Journey of Joy'
As one might expect, the reasons people start hooping are varied. Some people hoop for fitness, while others hoop as a spiritual practice. Some people even hoop therapeutically. But for most people, hooping, like dance, is a form of self-expression—and it’s for that reason that Troiano started hooping in 2009.
“I thought, my life is good: I have a fantastic husband, wonderful kids, a great neighborhood—but something was missing,” Troiano explained. “I told my husband I just wasn’t happy. I wasn’t unhappy—but I wasn’t content.”
After trying to compile a list of things she loved to do and only coming up with two, Troiano began what she called her “Journey of Joy" to find a new pasttime. While searching YouTube for different styles of dance—something she'd enjoyed as a kid—she came upon a video of a woman dancing with a hula hoop.
“I’d never seen anything like it before,” Troiano said. “It was a 3-minute video, and I just kept watching over and over to see what they were doing and what exactly it was about. … I ended up researching hoop dancing the whole day, and when my husband came home I literally brought the computer over to him and was like, ‘I want to do this.’”
Troiano ordered a custom hula hoop and it arrived two weeks later. But as excited as she’d been to get her hoop, her hooping success didn’t come quite as swiftly as she'd thought.
“I could not make it work," Troiano said. "At all.”
For about two weeks, Troiano worked at it, practicing 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night, as recommended by hooping instructors, she said. It got to the point where everyone in her house—including her four-year-old—was hooping, except for her.
“It became the nightly ritual: my husband and kids on the couch eating popcorn, me trying to hula hoop, and them giving me pointers. You know, pointers like, ‘Why can’t you do it? I can,’ and ‘You’re trying too hard,’” Troiano said.
Finally, Troiano ended up going to a private instructor, who figured out what she was doing wrong. After some practice, she started looking for a certification course and now has been certified three times as an instructor.
Aside from Hoop Jams, Troiano, a Havertown resident, has also taught classes at Main Line School Night, hosted build-your-own-hoop parties, workshops and more.
Troiano isn't alone in her enjoyment of hooping. Hula hooping—or just “hooping,” as devotees call it—is a culture unto itself.
“It’s definitely a fringe culture,” Troiano explained. “Most people don’t really understand what we do and why we do it.”
Hoopers range from fitness instructors (a half-hour class burns about 210 calories, according to a 2011 WebMD study) to circus performers with fire hoops to ravers who dance with LED-lit hoops.
“Mostly it’s young people—a really unique bunch of people—and I love that. [The culture] depends on what area you’re [involved] in: there’s a whole circus component to hula hooping, there’s dance, there’s fitness—but the one thing everybody shares is they all love hooping," Troiano explained.
There are some older hoopers as well—middle-aged folks, and hoopers in their 60s, too, though older hoopers are more rare. That's partially because hooping only got big in the United States in the late 1950s, when Wham-O introduced the hula hoop—even though hooping has been around at least since the Ancient Greeks, by some reports.
The Secrets to Hooping
Want to get started?
First, you'll have to buy a special hoop—not a flimsy plastic kids hoop, but a hoop that's the right size for your height, which can be easily purchased online. When standing, your hoop should reach from the floor to somewhere between your belly button and sternum, Troiano advised.
Then, find some instruction—one easy method is searching YouTube for hooping videos.
"It didn’t work for me, but it works for a lot of people," Troiano said.
If that doesn't work, find a free Hoop Jam. Failing that, head to a class or find a private instructor.
Can't seem to make it work?
The secret to hooping, Troiano said, "is really good posture and very good timing. That’s it. And it always helps to have a really good instructor."
Currently, Troiano's hooping business, Loopdihoops, is moving toward working with abused women and children and using hooping in a more therapeutic way.
Part of hoop therapy, Troiano said, is that hooping can offer an escape.
"Hooping can be therapeutic and healing, and at the very least, it's fun—and that's healing," Troiano said.
The healing properties of hooping are also relevant for Troiano's other business, the recently formed Cancer Health and Wellness. Founded after her immediate family went through four bouts of cancer in eight years, Cancer Health and Wellness is focused on holistic support for those facing a cancer diagnosis in themselves or family members.
While hooping and cancer support are not ostensibly related, Troiano has been looking at ways to combine her two passions, since hooping can offer both physical and emotional benefits to those coping with a cancer diagnosis.
She knows—because hooping has helped her, too.
“It’s just a complete expression of love and joy when I’m in [my hoop]," Troiano said. "It's amazing how this ridiculous circle that’s a child’s toy brings so much joy to me in that way."
Troiano hosts monthly hoop jams in Ardmore's Linwood Park (Linwood Ave. and E. Athens Ave.). The next hoop jam is Wednesday, July 11 at 6 p.m., weather permitting; hoops are provided and all ages are welcome.