By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – A hula hoop is a simple thing, a ring made of plastic that spins in rhythm with a body’s motion.
For some, it’s a child’s toy. For members of Hoop-elo, it’s a calorie-burning tool, as well as the center of a real-life social network.
“First off, it’s great exercise. It’s great cardio. I had some back issues. It seems to make my back more flexible,” said Deb Fooshee, 59, of Mooreville. “Plus, it’s a sisterhood. It’s a group of girls who get together. That’s what I like about it.”
Fooshee’s fellow hoopers meet at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in front of Tupelo City Hall to twist and turn together. They wear jeans, workout clothes or whatever they had on during the workday.
“It’s come-as-you-are,” said Tupelo resident Rebecca Fischer.
A few years ago, Fischer saw a friend in Oxford cut loose with a hula hoop.
“I was fascinated,” she said, “so she started teaching me.”
Hoop-elo grew from that, and now anywhere from a handful to a couple of dozen women show up to swing hoops around their waists, legs, necks and arms.
There’s no fee, no one takes roll, and nobody stands in front of the class barking out encouragement or instructions. Hoop-elo is a laid-back affair, where experienced hoopers informally share what they know.
“I love the whole positive atmosphere of it,” said Leigha Oliver, 25, of Saltillo. “We come here to relax and have fun together.”
‘Hoop’ is a verb
All ages are welcome, as long as their hips are in good hula form. Kids can join the fun – the hula hoop is a child’s toy, after all.
At 72, Saltillo resident Rose Brooks is the oldest Hoop-elo regular and she doesn’t mind saying so (unlike a couple of younger women who kept their ages to themselves).
“At first, I didn’t really want to do it, then I realized I could lose weight doing it,” Brooks said. “I do about 500 rotations every morning. That’s my daily exercise.”
She also takes a collection of hoops on the road to nursing homes.
“They get up and hoop, too,” Brooks said.
Fooshee chimed in to explain, “‘Hoop’ is a verb. That’s what it’s called: We hoop.”
They usually hoop to music, which varies from meeting to meeting but is usually upbeat. They also seek out other opportunities to groove.
“We meet at Down on Main when they have those free concerts,” Fischer said. “It’s fun to hoop to live music.”
During get-togethers at Fairpark, hooping can be a social thing or a personal experience. People can talk while their hips move from side to side; some withdraw into themselves and treat the hoop like a dance partner; and others use multiple hoops to test their focus and dexterity.
Gabrielle Lott, 34, of Oxford, is the one who introduced Fischer to the ways of the hula hoop. Her introduction came from a magazine article.
“It sounded good, so I went to a hardware store and looked on the Internet to learn how to make a hula hoop,” Lott said. “It went from there. It spiraled.”
She makes the one-hour drive to Tupelo for Hoop-elo meetings, where she spends part of her time helping newcomers and part focused on her own moves.
Lott’s hoops have become integral to her life, and it goes beyond the physical. Lott said her practice has emotional, mental and spiritual benefits.
“It gives me a way to express myself that I can’t get anywhere else. No one else hula hoops the way I hoop,” she said. “It has taken over my daily life. Most days I pick up my hoop after a hard day at work. It’s not so much about exercising. It’s getting rid of all that internal gunk. You just feel better.”
Websites, including Hooping.org and hoopcity.ca, are dedicated to the pastime, and retreats are held at far-flung places for people who want to get serious about their hooping.
“Serious” probably isn’t a good word for Hoop-elo meetings, which have their own vibe.
Leslie Geoghegan, 55, of Tupelo, summed it up: “It’s like recess for adults. It really is.”
It’s a chance for unstructured play, and hoopers sometimes incorporate moves they learned when they were kids at dance and gymnastics classes.
“I did ballet as a child,” Fischer said, “so the dance just kind of comes naturally.”
It should be noted that accidents happen. Hoops can collide with other hoops, and people can get bumps and bruises.
“One time I was trying to bring it over my head,” Oliver said, “and I hit myself in the lip and broke it open.”
Hoops range from homemade to fancy store-bought devices with tiny computers inside.
“They can cost up to $400,” said Janet Martin of Tupelo. “There are lots of different patterned LED lights, and you can adjust them.”
No one needs to invest that kind of money to become a hooper. Newcomers need only bring themselves.
“There are always extra hoops for girls to use,” Oliver said.
All of that twirling and twisting will cause muscles to burn the next day. It’s definitely a workout, and there are other benefits for those who join the sisterhood.
“It’s more than exercising,” Fischer said. “It’s about connecting with other people. It’s hard to explain. You just feel it.”