Hypnotic hoops: students relax, play, and meditate at weekly hooping classes

All photos Christine McCormick/Catalyst

Second-year Kenneth Lee walked over to a pile of rainbow hoops, watching his reflection in the mirror. He flung it around his legs and tried to keep the hoop rotating around his knee. “I just can’t seem to keep it from falling,” he said as it clattered to the floor.

“You kind of have to stand on one leg, and then sort of bop the other one back and forth to keep the hoop moving,” third-year Marissa Faith Benamy said, demonstrating with her own hoop. When Lee was satisfied with her demonstration, she returned to her previous hoop trick: The Vortex.

“You basically move the hoop up and down the body,” Benamy said. “There are all sorts of different tricks and moves you can do. There’s an element of dance in hooping and there are all sorts of different flavors. It’s a new art form.”

In addition to teaching a pilates class at the Fitness Center, Benamy has taken time to share her hooping enthusiasm with fellow Novocollegians on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. At her last class, several students showed up, some with their own hoops. Other borrowed one of the extras that Benamy carried in over her shoulder. Even though she has to leave early for chorus, second-year Amelia Nordin has regularly attended Benamy’s hooping classes.

“I’ve been coming since the beginning of the year,” Nordin said. “It’s really, really addictive.” It’s easy to see why. The mirrored wall multiplied the motion of the hoops in their trance-inducing circular paths.

“It’s repetitive,” Nordin said. “It can be kind of meditative.”

Benamy tells stories about other hoopers that really emphasize the meditative aspects of hooping. “It’s repetitive and relaxes you,” she said. “It’s rhythmic, circular and calming. There’s a whole hooping school of thought that says that hooping is meditative and can ward of depression. Hooping is my ‘go-have-pure-fun’ time. Turn on some music — anything with a rhythm will do — and just play with it.”

Many brave hoopers are playing with fire.

“You can use a flaming hoop,” Benamy said. “You never actually touch the flame. There’s just a bunch of wicks connected to the hoop. It looks pretty awesome.”

Another plastic clatter echoed across the room as Lee’s hoop fell to the floor yet again. “Keep working on it,” said Benamy.

Frustrating though it may be to struggle with a new trick, Benamy’s students were having a great time.

“People just don’t have enough fun anymore,” she said. “Hooping is just another form of play. It’s not all that different from hula hooping when you’re a kid, but the hoops are heavier and bigger. If you tried hooping with a little plastic kids’ hoop, your hips would be too big.”

Though Benamy has a few of the light plastic variety for hooping on her arms, most of her collection are handmade from heavy plastic. Nordin has her own personal hoop that she brought to the class decorated with colored tape.

“Faith made it for me over spring break,” she said. “It’s supposed to be steam-punk themed. I spent the rest of break hooping in my front yard.”

After reading detailed tutorials on some websites devoted to hooping, Benamy began making custom adult-sized hoops from black polyethylene tubing and gaffers held together with electrical tape. Depending on the number of colors she’s using, each hoop can take between one and two hours. She’s sold more than a dozen to fellow students and to some friends off-campus.

“I feel like I’m funding my own addiction,” she said. “Whenever I sell one, I feel like a pusher. I’m addicted to hooping and I’m happy to spread the joy of playing with toys as an adult to others.”

Besides purchasing her own handmade hoops, Benamy recommends Etsy, an online marketplace connecting handmade buyers and sellers.

“Buying handmade hoops support the grassroots of the hoop community,” she said. “The orders are custom and can be made to any size and color. With handmade, the quality is generally high and the uniqueness of handmade items makes them feel personal.”

For those interested in learning to hoop, Benamy has several suggestions. “There are lots of websites out there and you can pay for video tutorials online,” she said. “Or you could come to my hooping class!”

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