Child’s toy finds new popularity with adults

Although inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999, the Hula Hoop has evolved into much more than a child’s plaything.

At First Night Spokane, people thronged to watch the Visual Vortex Spin Collective dance with hoops. To the delight of an enthusiastic audience, the group twirled and spun flaming hoops, accompanied by eclectic music.

Troupe co-founder Stefanie VanDeest discovered hoop dancing or “hooping” several years ago. “It was love at first sight,” she said. “It’s such a beautiful expression and it’s mesmerizing whether you add fire or not.”

The performance group is part of Spokane Flow Arts, a grassroots organization providing education and entertainment.

VanDeest shares her passion for hooping Wednesday evenings at the Community Building in downtown Spokane. The weekly event is free and open to the public. VanDeest provides hoops for those who don’t own one, and beginners need not worry – nothing is set ablaze.

While VanDeest also teaches more structured hooping exercise classes at the YMCA, the Wednesday gatherings are informal and free-flowing. She usually begins the session with gentle yoga stretches, so dancers are warmed up and limber.

On a recent Wednesday, several drummers pounded out a rhythmic beat from the balcony above the lobby, as dancers twirled across the floor beneath them.

One of them was first-time visitor Adrienne Wales. “I was one of the first people in line at F.W. Woolworth to buy a Hula Hoop when they came out,” she said. “It cost me 24 cents.” She borrowed a hoop from VanDeest and gave it a spin around her waist.

Brook Hatch passed a hoop from arm to arm. When VanDeest invited her to try hooping, Hatch said, “I was really overweight. I was terrified of someone looking at me.” Her initial reluctance vanished when she discovered that not only was hooping fun – but it helped her lose weight. “It’s a full body workout,” she said.

Flow arts feature more than just hoops. Other tools include juggling balls and staffs. As the evening progressed a juggler moved among dancers.

Nearby, Chelsea Leathers gracefully moved her hoop from her neck to her ankles. She said, “I like all the different ways you can express your energy with the hoop.”

Candice Walberg, a member of Visual Vortex said, “I love the transcendence of it – the meditation of it.” And when you add the element of fire, things can get interesting. “I’ve lost my eyebrows,” she said.

If you want to master the art, Walberg said, “Like anything, it takes a lot of practice.”

Courtney Fagras nodded. She spun her hoop in slow circles around her waist. “I practice three to four hours a day. I feel great when I’m done! I feel energized.”

For many hoop dancers, the activity has provided a welcome sense of community. When Jen Boehmer moved here from Wisconsin, she was delighted to find a place to hoop. “It feels like coming home, every time.”

She said the attraction to this dance form is simple. “People are drawn to hoops because they’re childlike and playful, yet it’s an art form.”

As VanDeest paused to catch her breath, she smiled as she gazed across the room filled with music and movement. She said, “This is our way of giving back to the community.”

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