Hula Hooping Gets Groovy Again

Hula hooping isn't just for children any more. The jam band String Cheese Incident has spawned a hooping craze among its followers. Sean Cole went to take a lesson on the allure of the hoop.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Whatever you do, don't call it Hula-Hooping. These days, it's called hooping--no hula; just plain hooping. The 20- and 30-something hipsters who've taken up the activity have also done away with the lightweight kiddie hoops of the past. They're making their own out of heavy irrigation tubing, decorating them with electrical tape. The craze has made its way into New York gyms, and as Sean Cole of member station WBUR reports, it all started with a Colorado rock band.

SEAN COLE reporting:

They're called The String Cheese Incident, though they wouldn't really explain why. They're what's commonly referred to as a jam band, the kind that improvises for long stretches in the middle of a song.

(Soundbite of music)

COLE: A couple of weeks ago, The String Cheese Incident kicked off their fall tour at the State Theatre in Portland, Maine. A sea of sweat-soaked hippie kids danced their butts off. String Cheese legend has it that back when the band was first starting out in the early '90s, playing little clubs in Telluride and Crested Butte, Colorado, no one was dancing. So a couple of their friends started bringing industrial-sized Hula-Hoops to shows as a way of getting people to move. I have no independent confirmation on this story, but String Cheese drummer Michael Travis and violin-mandolin player Michael Kang named one friend in particular as The String Cheese Hula-Hoop missing link.

Mr. MICHAEL KANG (The String Cheese Incident): Beth Childers. She's a...

Mr. MICHAEL TRAVIS (The String Cheese Incident): ...(Unintelligible)

Mr. KANG: ...a good friend of ours from Telluride. And she'd kind of taken Hula-Hoops out into shows, and she had a tremendous...

Mr. TRAVIS: Body?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KANG: ...tremendous moves, so to speak.

Mr. TRAVIS: Right. Oh, yeah. Tremendous talent, yeah. That's right.

COLE: This is not "Brady Bunch"-era Hula-Hooping we're talking about. It's sexy and gymnastic and mystical-looking, the hoop floating from the knees up to the neck and back. Soon, Kang and Travis were hooping themselves and then, Kang says, one mid-'90s summer, they spent a couple of days making a bunch of their own Hula-Hoops in preparation for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Mr. KANG: Like 70 or 80 of them. And then we had it worked out that during our set, our buddy Austin(ph) would throw these hoops out into the crowd. And the next thing you know when we're playing, there's like 70 people Hula-Hooping all over the place and it kind of just caught on and took off after that. And the hoop became an emblem.

COLE: Literally. Their logo is an abstract drawing of a person with a Hula-Hoop.

For a while, the band was throwing out hoops at every show, but they don't really do it anymore. They don't have to. Fans bring their own hoops to shows now and groove out in perpetual motion.

Mr. CHEWY SMITH (Road Manager, The String Cheese Incident): I would have never put the two together, you know. When you Google `Hula-Hooping,' you know, `The String Cheese Incident' comes up.

COLE: This is String Cheese's road manager, Chewy Smith. He says he won't see hooping at every show, but that the band's contract stipulates every venue must allow Hula-Hoops inside.

Mr. SMITH: Anytime during the summer when we're playing these outdoor festivals, I mean, there's 50, 60 people in the back totally grooving with Hula-Hoops on. It's a riot to sit there and watch. I mean, there's professional hoopers at this point.

COLE: I'm sorry. Take a moment to consider those two words together: `professional hoopers.'

Mr. SMITH: And they are. I mean, they have business cards that say, `So-and-So, professional hooper for parties,' like sort of Cirque du Soleil type thing, as well, you know.

COLE: There are even hoop troupes, like a group called Groove Hoops in New York that actually performed with String Cheese this past summer. I heard one Groove Hooper was going to be at the Portland, Maine, show--or as String Cheese fans would call it, `The Incident'--so I arranged to meet her at a pre-Incident party down the street from the theater.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COLE: Hi.

Ms. KAITLYN STOLEY(ph): There he is. Whew! Ooh!

COLE: How are you?

Ms. STOLEY: Hello, Sean. I'm Kaitlyn.

COLE: It's good to meet you. How are you doing? I'm so sorry...

Kaitlyn Stoley is what's known in hooping circles as a `super hooper.' Like most of the people at the party, she was decked out in kaleidoscopic, quasi-Victorian hippie clothes. We immediately launched into this "Regis & Kelly"-type hooping segment together. She basically showed me what she teaches to her hooping students at a New York YMCA.

Ms. STOLEY: So you make sure you have enough space and then you give it a nice lateral toss back and forth. So that's the basic thing that we teach first in class, is just getting the hoop around the waist. And then we'll do things like getting the hoop from your waist up to your neck. There's a lot of different ways you can do it.

COLE: Unlike me, Kaitlyn was able to hoop as a little kid, but these hoops are different. They're bigger and heavier, easier to do tricks with. I watched her hoop with her feet and with one shoulder. Kaitlyn once hooped with the actor Tim Robbins. Kaitlyn has used hoops that happened to be on fire at the time. I figured she was the one to ask: What's the appeal?

Why do it?

Ms. STOLEY: Well, it's something a lot of people did when they were little, you know, so it kind of connects you to this childish play realm. And then you can't not be smiling the whole time, even if you get a little frustrated, if you don't get a trick or something. But you're gyrating your hoops and dancing to the music.

COLE: Your hips.

Ms. STOLEY: Your hips, yeah.

COLE: And your hoops.

Ms. STOLEY: Yeah, your hoops, hips, whatever. I've had, you know, Buddha-looking type men Hula-Hooping, you know. Like, you can do it. You just have to be patient and go for it.

COLE: Really?

Ms. STOLEY: Just you wait, yeah.

COLE: Right now?

Ms. STOLEY: Sure. Let's do it.

COLE: OK. Carol(ph)? Is she around?

I knew I was going to have to try it myself, so I brought my friend Carol along to hold the microphone. I'm a skinny guy, and Carol's known me a long time. So she felt OK pointing out that traditionally, you need hips to do this.

CAROL: Since Sean has no hips--he has concave hips--he's a perfect person for the true test.

COLE: All right. You give me the hoop, I'll give you the microphone.

Kaitlyn gave me a couple pointers before lift-off: `Make sure you have enough room; one foot in front of the other...'

Ms. STOLEY: Give it a nice strong throw, back and forth, back and forth. Yewww!

COLE: Back and forth. Whoo!

(Soundbite of cheering and laughter)

COLE: Oh, my God!

Ms. STOLEY: Yeah, you're awesome!

COLE: I can actually do this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COLE: This is insane.

It was true what everyone said: You can't hoop without laughing. I felt giddy and euphoric and didn't want to stop, in part because it seemed like I had finally cleared some ancient gym class hurdle I'd forgotten was there.

I can't believe how easy this is.

Ms. STOLEY: Yeah, it feels good. It's...

COLE: I'm grooving!

Ms. STOLEY: ...pretty magnificent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COLE: `Try to walk with it,' Kaitlyn said, at which point the hoop fell to the driveway. `Oh, you'll get it,' she said, `once you hear The String Cheese music start.'

(Soundbite of concert)

Unidentified Man: One, two, three, four!

(Soundbite of music)

COLE: But the theater was really cramped; tiny aisles, railed-in dancing platforms. I saw one fan hooping with one of those little Wham-O numbers for a few seconds, but that was it. It's too bad because I hear hooping to The String Cheese Incident can put you into a trance. But as their road manager Chewy Smith said, in a crowded theater like this, you don't want to be the guy who says...

Mr. SMITH: `Hey, give me eight feet of dancing room for me and my Hula-Hoop.'

COLE: You just don't ever want to be that guy. And I'm probably not ready for prime time anyway. Still, I hear hooping gives you great abs. I'm so totally going to get one. For NPR News, I'm Sean Cole.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Everybody...

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: