Down a dark, industrial alley in San Francisco’s South of Market, just beyond a plain black door, things are spinning. Everywhere you look, plastic hoops are gyrating at a frenetic pace – filling the cavernous studio space with the perpetual motion of whirring gears.
In the center of this mayhem, Cristabel Zamor shouts out commands to the collection of aspiring hula hoopers who have turned-out for her class.
“Imagine your spine is a string of pearls descending from the clouds,” she tells them without breaking the rhythm of her own hoop.
Nine years ago, Zamor walked away from her pursuit of a career in anthropology, and stepped into the life of a hooping guru. Back then, the hula hoop was a growing fad showing up at raves, music festivals and backyard parties.
Now, Zamor’s company, HoopGirl, sells hoops, books, instructional DVDs and has trained and accredited hundreds of hoop instructors around the world.
“When I was studying to be an anthropology professor, I had a very conservative view of how I could become successful in the world,” she says.”Hooping sort of took my life by storm.”
The hoop, more commonly known remembered as the 1950s Wham-o Hula Hoop, is enjoying a second life as a global pastime. It’s a tool of performance; the ultimate party accessory; a whirling dervish of a fitness machine.
Recently first lady Michelle Obama stepped into the ring herself, demonstrating her presidential prowess at an event to promote fitness.
“Hoop-dance definitely delivers a high body workout,” said Zamor, whose own body is lean and fit. “It’s not just strength building but also cardiovascular – builds endurance, core strength.”
Zamor said students who have worn calorie counters to her classes have documented burning 600 calories in an hour. Student Kitty Gordon, who has hooped for three years didn't express surprise as she stepped to the side for a breather.
“Yes, oh my gosh,” said Gordon. “Especially in your abs I really can feel it. It’s a great strength builder.”
According to Zamor, the fitness benefits are a beneficial byproduct to the hoop’s spiritual draw. Many hoopers find a deeper connection to the ring’s hypnotic rhythms, she said.
“I think hooping is attractive to people because it’s an opportunity to feel free,” she said. “You can just be in your body without caring what you look like. You can let go of our day.”
“It’s a calming feeling for me,” Rizzoli said. “It’s like I get to settle down once I get in the hoop and just dance… and be whoever I be.”