Instructor: Kristina Sutcliffe, of Lyons, has been hula-hooping for more than five years and teaching for four. She regularly travels to retreats across the United States and continues to learn. She has a bachelor’s in modern dance from the University of Colorado and also teaches Zumba. She runs O Dance studio and teaches hoop throughout Boulder County.What is the workout? Hoop Dance Fitness is a low-impact, aerobic, dance-based, fitness class that uses hula-hoops to get you moving and sweating. It is designed to expand your range of motion, strengthen and tone your muscles, get you active and open your minds to learn something new (thereby creating new neuropathways in the brain).
The format of each class depends on who is there. In my class, we learned a few tricks and transitions and then played with music. The various moves were broken up into three different difficulty levels, so the class accommodated beginners, like me, up to advanced students.
“We use playfulness to integrate it with your body, and that’s when the heart rate goes up,” Sutcliffe says.
What’s different: “Most movement is so linear, and in this, we incorporate the spiral direction,” Sutcliffe says. “For people who are avid bicyclists or swimmers, shake it up a little bit. It’s great cross-training.”
We also used the right and left sides of our body equally — which totally freaked my left hand out, when for the first time in 33 years, I asked it to participate in the world. When she asked us to spin the hoop on our left hand, I stood there for about five minutes trying to figure out what that even meant.
But miraculously, by the end of class, I could move the hoop from my right to left hand, with only accidentally throwing the hoop across the classroom every other time. Is it possible to actually feel your neuropathways rebuild? Because I swear I did.
“Most of the trouble people have when they get injuries is an imbalance. I think that hooping, if you work with a good teacher and you go in both directions and you go right and left, you’re going to stay more balanced,” Sutcliffe says.
What does it cost? Varies based on location. Visit Odance.net for full list. Want to try a class for free? Sign up online for a Saturday or Thursday class and you can get your first class free. Other classes tend to be about $12 per drop-in, with punch cards and various kinds of memberships available.
When: Sutcliffe teaches seven classes at different locations in Boulder, so check her website for the schedule. She also does private classes and bachelorette parties. I took the 1:05 p.m. Tuesday class at RallySport for an hour.
Level: All levels and ages. I found the class a surprising seven on a 10-point scale of intensity and difficulty. It was like learning a new language with a lot of new input, mentally and physically.
Sutcliffe says there is a current surge in interest in hula-hooping.
“Some people do it for exercise, some people do it for dance and creative expression, some people do it to be part of a community, some people do it for meditative reasons; there are very few things you can feel that kind of flow with,” she says. “Also, it’s big in circus arts. It’s starting its evolution. It’s starting to come into its own as a technique and a formal thing.”
Her next step is to make hooping a healing modality, as well.
“Using the movement that the hoop creates to work through scar tissue, to work with stroke victims, to work with autistic kids. It’s the mind-body connection that I think is the next evolution for me,” Sutcliffe says. “My goal is to keep movement in people’s lives, whether you’re 6 or 80 going to an assisted living home — not even putting it around people’s waist, but moving with the hoop as a tool.”
What to prepare: Hula-hoops provided, although you can buy one from Sutcliffe ($35 for a big hoop, $25 for a little one). Wear comfortable clothes (tighter is better), shoes optional.
Muscles worked: OK, forget what you think you know about hula-hooping in gym class or at a festival in the ’70s when you were blazed out of your mind. Hula-hooping is hard work and a legitimate workout that can burn up to 600 calories per hour. The hoop is actually a piece of resistance equipment that strengthens and tones your abs, obliques and lower back as it spins around your core. (You have to keep your core engaged or the hoop will plop onto the floor.)
But hooping goes beyond the waist. We hooped around our chest and shoulders, opening, stretching and strengthening these areas (if you can keep it up there, that is, which I couldn’t). Spin it around your arms and it firms biceps, triceps and deltoids in both horizontal and vertical planes — and it even massages and exercises your hands and forearms, depending on where you place it. My hands got exhausted, a sentence I didn’t expect to say after hula-hooping. You have to sort of push against the hoop with your body parts in order to create enough resistance and momentum to keep it up, so each trick must be is highly energized and muscles must be turned totally on (yes, even for hoopers who look relaxed). We worked all the muscles, the intrinsic muscles from the base of the spine all the way up the neck.
You can also move the hoop down to your glutes and hamstrings (for a nice buttocks massage, ahem), and the class teaches you how to walk and dance around while hooping, which quickly gets your heart rate soaring. It also helps you improve your balance, coordination, dexterity and focus.
At the same time, because of the repetitive, circular motions (and the fact that it’s quite impossible not to smile while hula-hooping), the exercise is meditative, relaxing and energizing, like yoga.
What I loved: That satisfied click in your brain when you get a new trick. The flowing feeling of the hoop circling your waist. The music selection was wonderful and inspiring. Sutcliffe was so relaxed and nonjudgmental that it was impossible not to have a blast. (I think I was the only one bothered by how many times I had to chase my runaway hoop across the room.) I’m hard-pressed to think of a more amusing way to exercise.
What I didn’t like: I thought I knew how to hula-hoop, because I have my own hoop and I enjoy hooping while I read. But turns out I know how to spin my specific hoop on my waist and nothing else. There is so much more you can do that it blew my mind, and I actually felt frustrated for 1.4 seconds (until I realized, hi, it’s a hula-hoop, calm down).
It took me about 15 minutes to get used to the differently weighted hoop (lighter) that I used in class, which put me behind everyone else from the get-go, so I would recommend either coming early to class to get adjusted or just enter class expecting to be challenged. I bet my next class would be easier, because I would know what to expect. The challenge truly shocked me, but ultimately in a good way.
How I felt after the class: My brain felt different for about an hour after class — seriously. It was still spinning and circling and it was hard for me to think in a linear way. As the day went on, I began to feel how much I had worked my core. I woke up with muscles slightly sore from shoulders to glutes, especially around my special “muffin top” spot and obliques. I am hereby vowing to use my personal hula-hoop at least once a week for 30 minutes. It’s in writing, so it’s official. I also want to take more classes, so I can finally fulfill my lifelong dream to run away with the circus. I’ve got a long way to go.