Time to break out your hula hips and bust a wheel.


Edmonton Calgary Circus Performer Childrens Entertainer and Fire Dancer

Sandra Sommerville is a professional hoop-dancing performer and teacher and also runs the networking site hoopcity.ca. Hoop dancing is growing in popularity. People come looking for fitness and stay for the fun, she says. Photograph by: Greg Southam, The Journal, Edmonton Journal

It’s Monday night and new wave singer Santigold’s Unstoppable is pumping inside an inconspicuous Old Strathcona dance studio. On the floor, five women are lost in the beat, grooving and grinding to the music.

They have no dance partners. Only hula hoops.

It seems impossible–those of us who played with hula hoops as children know that the unwieldy circular contraptions inevitably slide lower, lower, lower before going dead at your feet. Even if you do manage to keep them going ’round your hips, then what?

A lot, as it turns out. Here, at professional hoop-dancer Sandra Sommerville’s studio, the hula hoop is a weightless, flying prop, adding colour, flash, and intensity to movement.

The women in Sommerville’s advanced class make it look easy, hoops whirling continuously around chests, arms–even around one leg at a time.

“You’ve got to commit,” Sommerville instructs. The key to hooping is to pick a direction and roll with it. Pop your hip, left to right, and don’t hesitate. Of course, Sommerville’s students know this already.

Hoops around their waists, they warm up with a rubber ball, tossed between them in a modified game of Keep It Up.

Besides teaching and performing, Sommerville also runs Hoopcity.ca,an online hooping community that has amassed more than 1,000 members since it launched in late January. Hoop-dancing enthusiasts have flocked to the website to share tips, videos, and pictures, and to watch Sommerville’s popular video tutorials.

“It’s like Facebook for hoopers,” says the 25-year-old, who taught herself how to hoop dance by

watching performances on YouTube. “There’s a really strong online hooping community, and that’s

watching performances on YouTube. “There’s a really strong online hooping community, and that’s mostly because it’s not popular enough and not mainstream enough.”

That, however, is changing. The modern hooping movement got its start via American jam band the String Cheese Incident, whose members threw out hoops at concerts. The pastime was pushed into the now more recently by U. S. first lady Michelle Obama, who has been photographed showing off her spin.

“It’s very addicting,” says Sommerville, who has been hooping for two and a half years. “I think there are people that come in for the fitness, but I don’t think they stay there for the fitness. They stay there because it’s fun. They enjoy it.”

Sommerville’s star student Hannah Wiens enjoys hooping so much, she practised five hours a day at one point.

“She’s worn a couple of raw spots in the backyard,” says her father Randy with a laugh. “In the winter, she’d be pushing aside the furniture in the living room and hooping upstairs. We’ve got a couple of skid marks on the ceiling.”

Hannah fell in love with hooping after she saw Sommerville do a demo at her junior high.

“When I first saw Sandra do this, I couldn’t believe it,” says the 15-year-old. “I couldn’t believe that that was possible with a hula hoop and I was like, ‘I really want to learn that!’ ”

All her practice paid off: Just three months after she started hooping, Hannah was showing off her skills in front of 600 people at her school talent show, held in March.

“I think it’s a good fitness thing,” says Randy. “It’s also a really nice passion for her. It’s an artistic outlet.”

Hannah is Sommerville’s youngest advanced student, and something of a standout in a hooping community comprised primarily of 20-somethings.

“I think it’s really interesting that it’s mostly adult women rather than young girls, and even a lot of mothers,” says Sommerville. “It gives you something to kind of step away from your daily life and just take a moment for yourself.”

Children’s performer and massage therapist Mary Rankin took up hoop dancing in November as part of a year-long 50th birthday present to herself. “It’s an amazing amount of fun and I feel so proud of myself when I get the tricks,” says Rankin, who has started to incorporate hula hoops into her act as Netti Spaghetti.

“Everywhere I go, somebody wants to play, somebody wants to hoop,” she says. “Kids love it. Grown- ups love it.”

Beyond the fun, Rankin says, hooping has also kept her in shape.

“It’s fabulous for you aerobically,” she says. “You can feel it in your lungs, if you’re really working hard. All of your muscles. You’re using your legs, and it’s great for your back.”

Rankin never hula-hooped as a child, and claims to be an uncoordinated klutz. But ever since she

started hooping, she says,

started hooping, she says, her agility and dexterity has improved.

“For people who have sore bodies because they don’t move much, doing something like this is a fun way of getting exercise,” she says. “I hate to exercise. I hate it, I hate it, but I love this.”

The class spends the evening working on flow, something every hoop dancer aspires to achieve, Sommerville says.

“That’s the ability to literally dance with the hoop as if you’re just dancing and the hoop is kinda just magically there,” she explains. Instead of focusing on specific tricks, the hoop should become an extension of the dancer. The combinations come naturally, allowing the hooper to infuse her own style into her performance, dance her own dance.

As the women freestyle to Santigold, their hoops appear to defy gravity. They slice up high, then down low, pulling their hoops through the air with grace, then stepping in and out of the wheels as if they’re not there. Together with their hoops, the dancers are unstoppable.

Edmonton Calgary Circus Performer Childrens Entertainer and Fire Dancer