Arts & Entertainment

Not your little sister’s Hula Hoop

Once a hobby just for kids, Hula hooping has become a fitness craze, competitive sport and growing community in Philly.

At the Langerado Music Festival in the South Florida Everglades, amid a haze of smoke and glow sticks, the Phish cover band Phix is jamming out. But no one is looking at the band.

Instead, the collective gaze is fixed on Liz Passman. A multicolored Hula Hoop climbs up her neck, whirls seductively around her leather-clad hips, and descends down to her knees in a few effortless movements.

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Temple student Madeleine Bell (front left) practices under the instruction of coach Jennifer Alvarez (back left) at Northern Liberties’ Ironworks Fitness Clubs (Sara Elia/TTN).

“This is how I get my high,” she said. “I hoop.”

Passsman is part of a new scene that’s emerging during the year of the Wham-O Hula Hoop’s 50th anniversary. Hooping is becoming popular in many cities, including Philly, as an off-beat hobby, competitive sport and fitness craze.

“Hooping makes you happy,” hooping instructor Jennifer Alvarez said. “Whenever the people are done my classes, they are like, ‘It’s been an hour already?’ It’s amazing how much they enjoy the workout.”
Alvarez teaches the cardio hoop sculpting class at Northern Liberties’ Ironworks Fitness Clubs, which was recognized in Philadelphia Magazine’s “Best of Philly” issue in August. She was introduced to hooping during the annual Miami Winter Music Conference, where she was “blown away” after watching hooper KC Ruby-Hoops perform. Soon after, she was snapping up materials at Lowe’s to craft her own hoops, and flaunting her new passion at parties.

Now, Alvarez is making a career of it. Performing at bachelorette parties and New Year’s Eve bashes, Alvarez serves as an unconventional substitute for male strippers.

Passman is making a few bucks from her hobby, too.

“At [an artist’s] show, we hooped in costume and got a huge crowd of people watching. At the end, we passed a hat around and collected $40,” she said. “There are other events that we are hired and paid to perform at, but it happens randomly at festivals.”

Hooping instructor Jennifer Alvarez has performed at bachelorette parties and music festivals (Sara Elia/TTN).

Festivals, parties and club venues are considered to be the ideal places to collaborate with hoopsters.
“There’s a huge group called the Philadelphia Experiment that goes to Burning Man Festival every year,” Alvarez said. “People like [South African jazz musician] Marcus Wyatt and [DJs] King Britt and Lee Majors all go.”

A hoop performance was one of the main attractions at New Jersey’s PhanPhest, an arts and music festival that took place in August. At Philly’s recent Neighborhood-to-Neighborhood Street Festival, Alvarez and her hoop troop made an appearance.

But hooping isn’t just for entertainment – many people use it to get fit.

“I’m a personal trainer, so I was already in shape, but the physical results from hooping were unbelievable,” Alvarez said.

For many, hooping provides a social network. Passman was a member of the Allentown, Pa., hooping community, where she performed at festivals and taught a class before moving to South Carolina. Through hooping, she quickly found her niche, while also helping women improve their self-esteem.
“The women in my classes are able to feel sexy in a safe environment,” Passman said about hooping’s anxiety-reducing effects. “You just get into a zone.”

Hula hooping is also an excuse to take a break from studying for a biology exam on mitosis. Want to experience a toned body, social connections and therapy? Get all of that from what is basically a large, plastic ring.

Maureen Coulter can be reached at maureen.coulter@temple.edu.

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