The History of Hooping

Ganymede rolling a hoop.
Ganymede rolling a hoop. The Louvre (dated 500-490 BCE)

Playing with hoops is not a new fad. Hooping has been a way to exercise and play for the last 3,000 years. Throughout history, hoops have been made from willow, rattan, grapevines, stiff grasses, metal, wood, and bamboo.

In Egypt, 1000 BC, Children would play with hoops made by making circles from dried grape vines. Rolling them on their waists, or spinning them with sticks. In ancient Greece, hoops were used to exercise and loose weight.

The hooping craze swept across England in the 14th century. The hoop was used for recreation and was as popular with adults as with children. Eventually doctors began to blame heart attacks and dislocated backs on hooping, and it’s popularity diminished. After seeing Hula Dance while visiting the Hawaiian Islands, British Sailors recognized the movement from hoop play, and coined the term “Hula Hoop”. Hooping was once again popular in 19th century England.

Native America Hoop Dance

Native American Hoop Dance is part of the Pan-Indian movement which started in 1911, but the hoop dance itself has been around since the 15th century. Hoop Dance for Native Americans is a form of storytelling, using as many as 30 hoops made of reeds as props. Symbols are made with the hoops to represent various shapes, including animals. In the Native American culture, the hoop symbolizes the never ending cycle of life. There is an annual competition every year at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona which draws as many as 10,000 spectators.

World Hoop Dance Championship
2005 World Hoop Dance Championship

Hula Hooping in the 1950s

In 1957, an Australian began selling bamboo hoops in retail stores. After hearing about this, California based company Wham-O, founded by Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin, began manufacturing polyethylene hoops in a variety of colors. In 1958, Richard Knerr and Arthur Melin gave away free hoops and preformed demonstrations in Southern Californian schools and playgrounds. The hula hooping craze swept across the United States. 25 million hula hoops were sold in a four-month period. 20,000 hoops a day were being manufactured at their peek of popularity.

Modern Hooping

Many attribute the current revival of hooping to the jam band the String Cheese Incident. In the 90s, band members would toss hoops into the audience to encourage movement. Hoopers began bringing their hoops to music festivals, swirling and dancing to the bands on stage. The annual Burning Man Festival has been a home to hoopers since 2003. It has become so popular, that events are made specifically for hooping at various festivals.

Modern hoops are no longer made with grasses and reed, but often from irrigation tubing wrapped in brightly colored tapes. They are also often made larger, to work better with an adult sized body.

Various organizations were developed to help form the hooping community such as Hooping.org and HoopCity.ca. These groups help hoopers get together and organize hoop jams, retreats, and classes to learn tricks and moves.

Hooping is quickly becoming the next fitness craze. There are many health benefits to hooping including cardiovascular exercise and increased muscle tone. The hoop not only tones your core and back, but with different moves, it can also work your arms, thighs, and butt. Many who hoop feel that it promotes a sense of wellness that goes beyond the physical. The rhythm of the hoop can be very meditative, calming stresses and bringing on a sense of well being.