Hula hooping as art and as exercise

Eleanor Dearman

Hula hooping isn’t just for schoolchildren anymore. The school-yard pastime has evolved into an entire hooping culture that provides exercise and an outlet for artistic expression to those who try it. 

Laura Scarborough has been hooping since 2004 and teaches hula-hoop exercise classes at Galaxy Dance Studios and other studios in Austin.

“There is a huge movement that has happened really heavily in the past five years and it’s amazing,” Scarborough said. “You see them a lot at festivals … but I’m really interested in bringing hoops to people who maybe wouldn’t go to a circus or a music festival and using it as a form for meditation, exercise and just fun playfulness.”

Scarborough said not to be intimidated by the challenge of hula hooping.

“I gave the hoop a spin and I was a complete disaster,” Scarborough said. “I could not keep it up to save my life. I got after it the next day and the next day, and I decided that I wanted to take something that was really challenging for me and become [a] master at it.”

In order to make her class less intimidating for new students, Scarborough structures it in a three- to four-week series, with each class adding on to the next. This results in a final piece of hula hooping choreographed to music. 

“It creates a bit of class camaraderie,” Scarborough said. “We are all moving together, everyone knows what was covered last week. So the idea is to follow an accumulative structure.”

The fun, come-as-you-are atmosphere of the class creates an environment that student Stephanie Delk said is more enjoyable than going to the gym.

“I’ve pretty much done every workout you can name over the years,” Delk said. “But this, it’s lots and lots of cardio and it’s fun. A lot of times you get with a workout, and it’s like, ‘Alright I’m going to go to the gym and run on the treadmill,’ and it gets really boring, but with this there’s something new all the time.” 

Scarborough said hula hooping differs from other classes, such as yoga or spinning, because it serves as an artistic outlet as well as exercise. 

“There’s a bit of improvisation with hooping where you start to craft it,” Scarborough said. “It’s a form of expression and I think that’s what’s a little different than some of these other classes. Yoga is about achieving this precision in your poses, where as [with] hooping there’s a precision we want to go for, but there is a lot of freedom and creativity that’s in the mix of it.” 

As a physical activity, hula hooping provides intense cardiovascular exercise that is comparable to running.

“It immediately gets the blood flowing through the body, so it’s an excellent thing to do as a warm-up before other exercises,” Scarborough said. “What’s also great about it is that you get that heavy heartbeat without having the impact, so for people that don’t want to run or do a heavy-impact sport, hooping is really good for that.”

Scarborough, who lost 30 pounds after one year of hooping, experienced the effects of hula hooping firsthand in a process that she calls “growing younger.” 

“It really started to create a lot of change in my life,” Scarborough said. “I started just lighting up, which is why I call it ‘growing younger’ in the hoop. And I’ve seen it in a lot of my students or people that I have just gotten into hooping over the years. I see them a year later and their bodies are transformed … And they’re just glowing.”

Although Scarborough loves for people to come to her class, she said it is more important for people to start exploring hula hooping individually and to learn which methods work best for them. One of her students, Erica Lang, does this by reading books and watching YouTube videos in addition to the hula hooping classes. 

“Once you learn one trick, then a second trick and a third trick, then you begin to feel like you’re a real pro,” Lang said. “You can string a few things together. It’s a very positive way to get your exercise in and get your groove on.”