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What is a Hula Hoop?

Momo Bonobo

flow artist holding a hula hoop

The hoop, in its many forms, has been an instrument of play, ritual, and performance throughout human history. Its simplicity—just a ring, big or small—has allowed it to transcend cultures and eras, continually finding new expressions and purposes.

One of the earliest and most significant cultural uses of the hoop was in the Native American tradition. The Native American hoop dance was not just a performance art but a form of storytelling, with each hoop used to create symbolic shapes representing various animals and elements of nature.

In the ancient games of many civilizations, the hoop was a central prop. Hoop rolling, or hoop bowling, was a popular pastime where participants would keep a hoop upright and moving with the aid of a stick, a game that even found its way into Greek mythology.

Key Milestones in the History of Hooping:

  • Native American Hoop Dance: This traditional dance involved the manipulation of multiple hoops to create various shapes and patterns.
  • Hoop Bowling: A pastime in many ancient cultures, involving rolling a hoop with a stick.
  • Hula Hooping: A 20th-century revival, coined by the toy company Wham-O in the 1950s.
  • Circus and Acrobatic Hooping: Uses of hoops in performances ranging from acrobatics to animal tricks.
  • Modern Hooping: The transformation of hooping into a fitness regimen and a performance art with day, fire, and LED hoops.

The term “hula hoop” came into being in the 1950s, when the toy company Wham-O coined it, inspired by the movements of hula dance in the Hawaiian Islands. The hula hoop was a commercial success, sparking a global craze and introducing hooping as a form of play to a new generation.

The circus and acrobatic world have a rich history with various props, including the hoop. Within this realm, one notable prop is the ‘cyr wheel,’ a large metal hoop where performers stand inside the prop and hold onto the rim while spinning. Other versions of hoops they use also include juggling rings.

Today, hooping has evolved beyond the playground and circus, emerging as a popular form of fitness and performance art. Fitness hooping is touted for its cardiovascular and core-toning benefits, often seen in gyms and fitness classes.

Performance hooping, particularly with fire and LED hoops, has found its place in the flow arts community. Fire hooping involves a hoop with fire wicks attached, creating a stunning display of light and movement. LED hooping adds a modern, technological twist, with programmable LED lights illuminating the hoop in a mesmerizing dance of colors. LED hoops tend to be some of the coolest LED props out there as well because of the different patterns that can be created with a ring of light.

The beauty in hooping is in the simplicity of its design. Although it’s just a circle, there is an endless number of ways to express yourself as well as hundreds of tricks and transitions to keep you busy for years to come. Check them out here!