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Come On, Get Hoopy!

The Hula-Hoop is more than just a retro toy; it's an energizing art form. 'You can't hoop and stay sad,' says one aficionado. L.A. at Large

April 08, 2001|NOA JONES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

House music pulses through the speakers as nearly 30 Hula-Hoopers shimmy, gyrate, wiggle and otherwise try to find their groove. Horses from the neighborhood peer over the fence for a gander at this strange human behavior. "You guys are hoop maniacs!" calls out instructor Anah Reichenbach, whose Atwater Village yard has became a haven for hoopers.

After a brief yoga warm-up, Reichenbach herself swings into action. She has supreme control of every centimeter of her body. The hoop gracefully follows each nuance of motion, skimming her hips, rising to her upheld wrist, flowing down to her thighs and back up again, the visual counterpart to dance tracks spun by Sammy Korchid, a.k.a. DJ Sacred, who alternates between hooping and spinning at these twice-monthly workshops put on by Reichenbach and her business partner Sita Luna.

"It's a whole new art form," Reichenbach says, "unstructured, interactive, hoop performance art." And it appears to be attracting a varied group of devotees, from 80-year-old men to professional dancers to club kids.

"Anyone can hoop," says Luna. "It's kind of like combining the meditation of yoga with the expression of dance and the workout of an exercise routine." She says it teaches people to dance and to find their own natural rhythm. "The hoop creates a safe space for people who ordinarily wouldn't cut loose and get freaky," she says.

Luna, whose constant hooping earned her the moniker "hula hula girl" of Venice, met Reichenbach at a fair in Topanga Canyon last year. Reichenbach was living the life of a self-described "hooligan" nomad, traveling with her boyfriend and two dogs in a VW van, selling her specially designed hoops at music festivals. Upon their first meeting, the pair knew they had to get together.

Together they founded Planet Hoop, dedicated to bringing "love and hoopiness to the people." Planet Hoop produces hoops made of denser plastic than traditional Hula-Hoops. Designed for adult proportions, these heavier hoops are slower and easier to manipulate.

Most of today's students met and became mesmerized by Reichenbach and Luna at nightclubs, desert raves, festivals, farmers' markets or other venues where the pair performs as Orbital Bliss. Some people arrive with purple dreadlocks and glittery cheeks. Others, like 44-year-old psychologist David White, arrive with children in tow.

"This is our second time. Alison really insisted," he says of his 9-year-old daughter. She is a natural talent, to be sure, but one look at the blissful grin on White's face as he masters the barrel roll maneuver and it's pretty clear who's doing the insisting.

Korchid says he's drawn to the spiritual side of hooping. "The awareness of how it goes around and comes around represents the consciousness of giving and receiving," he says.

Luna agrees. "Through the innocent, lighthearted fun of hooping, I spin myself right into this joyful meditation. It's very subtle."

The benefits to the waistline are not so subtle. As an exercise, hooping tones the stomach, burns fat and massages internal organs. Kandice Bishop swears she has lost 14 pounds and 2 inches off her waist by hooping four days a week for 20 minutes. Christine Louise Berry, fresh off a seven-year relationship, traded her engagement ring for the hoop.

"It's really brought joy back into my life after this ridiculous breakup. You can't hoop and stay sad," she says. "It makes you feel sexy and alive."

The movement is decidedly sensual. Pam Ranger, a dancer and advanced workshopper, accepts the double-hoop challenge, joining Reichenbach in a single hoop, 6 1/2 feet in diameter. Gyrating back to back, they send the giant hoop into orbit around them. With the grace of a judo master, Luna rolls to the grass and emerges inside the hoop, making it a threesome.

The hoops keep spinning into the afternoon, and the energy palpably lifts. Goofiness prevails. Bodies whirl like dervishes. Experiments include multiple hoops, partner hooping, spinning hoops on fingertips and rear ends. Bishop loses her hoop and just dances in the grass. It's one of those "if an alien landed" moments when the human species suddenly looks completely absurd.

As the workshop winds down, everyone is energized and smiling, despite the grass stains and one bonked nose. White, for one, will be back. "I am committed to being top in the middle-aged men's division," he jokes.

Reichenbach and Luna have aspirations too--a line of hoop clothing, a hoop store, a weekly club and expansion of Orbital Bliss, their "hoop troupe" performance team for which they are currently grooming talent. "Ideally we would get funded [by a business partner] to make our hoops out of hemp plastic," says Reichenbach. But mostly they just want to see more people hoop.

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For more information, call Anah Reichenbach or Sita Luna at (877) HIP-HOOP.

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