Rock-a-hula baby!

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When I was told hula hooping was the next “in” thing I couldn’t help but wonder what all the hoopla was about. But after seeing Anna the Hulagan in action, I now know that as Shakira says, the hips don’t lie, writes Laura Burgoine…

When I first got in contact with Anna in September I was told there wouldn’t be classes that week because the London Hoop Fest was taking place. As curator, Anna was among about 50 professional hula hoopers from all over the UK and Europe running workshops and performances at the sold-out event in uber-trendy Hackney.

“The hoopers are definitely a growing community in London, and it’s gaining momentum; Grace Jones certainly helped with her performance at the Jubilee,” Anna says.

Anna fell into hooping seven years ago while she was on university exchange at Berkley University, California. “I saw someone hooping and it just blew me away,” she recalls. After letting the idea ‘grow’ for a year without doing anything about it, Anna bought a hoop and headed to the park, determined to learn the artform.

“I was totally useless,” she laughs. “I went to the park every day for a week and was just in tears because I was no good at it”. However, it was a common mistake because she was using a hoop that was the wrong weight. “When you’re starting off the bigger the hoop, the easier it is,” Anna advises. “I constantly get beginners coming to me and they’ve been using the wrong hoop and then when they try with the right size it just clicks”.

As well as being a total body workout (“it’s great for co-ordination, aerobic exercise and toning”), hula hooping is a really good social activity, according to Anna. “For women, exercise is rarely a social thing; boys can go and kick a ball around but girls don’t really have the chance to be active together,” she says.

“Hooping is very individual, which appeals to a lot of women, but you’re also sharing skills and socialising and it’s just a really innovative thing that really builds your confidence. And it’s fun!”.

And for any hula-curious males out there, it’s not just a female sport, Anna insists. “My boyfriend hula hoops; that’s how we met, he asked if he could borrow my hoop,” she laughs.

About a year and a half into her hooping career Anna stepped it up a notch and starting playing with fire. Literally. As a full-time hula hooper, she now hulas with hoops that have spokes sparking out flames as part of her burlesque, cabaret and festival work.

“It was always my intention to do fire, I don’t know where that came from but I had this idea that if someone else can do it, I can too,” Anna recalls. “That’s what I tell people; anyone can do it, it’s just about persistence and perseverance and muscle memory, training your body to move in the same way your hips do”.

With this in mind I went along to Kennington for my first hula class. I had initially envisioned some kind of Brady Bunch scenario where girls with pony-tails, dressed in ‘60s attire, would stand around spinning hoops on their hips, but it was so much more. Part circus, part acrobatics, part athletics, I can’t even describe just how impressive hula looks when it’s done well. Anna would effortlessly flick a hoop from one wrist across her back, catch it with the other wrist, spin it on one hand, switch to a figure eight movement, jump through it, pass it around her back, and continue in an insanely cool routine that was just mesmerising.

An hour flies by and I’m delighted to find myself sporting battle wounds in the way of bruises and cuts the next day; this sport is far more hard-core than it looks.

I have it on good authority that hooping is sweeping the nation, so for the hooping hopefuls who want to be match-ready when the hula discos take off (and they will take off, Anna assures me) start your training now. And by training I mean hooping in a Kennington dance studio with the lights off and the Beach Boys blaring; what’s not to love?

Anna teaches hula hooping classes every Monday from 7:30pm until 8:30pm at the Old Lilian Baylis School, Lollard Street, SE11. http://hoopinganna.com

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