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Image: Shutterstock

You’ve all seen them, sprinkling the Houston parks, twirling around and twisting a childhood pastime into an art. Hula hoops, once only a dusty toy forgotten in the back of your garage, are now one of Houston’s top trending hobbies for all ages.

“I don’t want to say it’s a cultural thing, but it kind of is,” Illyssa Gallaway explained while taking a break from whirling to the beat of a drum circle at Montrose’s Mandell Park on a sunny weekend.

Spending any Saturday in Menil Park will yield a display of hoopers that border more of a Cirque du Soleil act than your average hula hoop routine. Amongst Acro yogis, jugglers and slack ropers, hoopers are adding to the mesmerizing park performances.

With things like haloing, the act of spinning the hoop around one's head, and breaks, the advanced trick of stopping the hoop mid rotation then going the opposite way, this activity has moved far past the amateur level of hop scotch.

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Hooper Rebecca Cook

Image: Rebecca Cook

“It’s more about skill, learning the tricks of it, advancing and the plain theatrical object,” said Rebecca Cook, an avid hooper of two years who spends the majority of almost all her days off at Menil Park. “But, I would say anything can be learned in under a week as along as you’re really practicing.”

The upcoming ArtX event, GlowOrama: Backstage!, invites hooping-enthusiasts to experience GlowOrama performances up close and personal. Following fire dancers, light spinners and hoopers, attendees will be invited to participate in FlowArts workshops where they will be encouraged to join the fun and try their hand at performing.

“[Performing at Festivals] is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. Just the rush of being in front of people and them cheering you on, it’s amazing,” added 16-year-old Gallaway. “It’s such a rush, but at the same time it’s still also really calming.”

“The people that [hoop] are normally very relaxed, calm people content with themselves, so it’s a great environment to be in,” Gallaway explained. 

“When you go to the Menil and see other hoopers there, there’s always just this sort of comradery there. They will teach you tricks and you pick it up as you go along. I never read anything, it was just always word of mouth,” Cook said who picked up hooping after taking a class at NiaMoves, a studio in the Heights. “It’s really nice because you make friends that way and it does seem to be a really growing scene.”

Houston hoopers twirl their way through every walk of life and cannot be categorized by an age demographic.

“I don’t think I really learned to hula hoop until I was a full adult. It’s been about 10 years… I need to practice, I’m like totally amateur,” laughed Stephanie Green who spent her 50th birthday hooping in Menil Park.

When asked why adults are turning back to their roots and picking up the hoops, the 50-year-old birthday girl dismissed the meditation and workout aspect, “It’s fun… Those other things are a plus,” laughs a youthful looking Green. “It’s hula hooping, it keeps you young.”

According to 4-year-old Oscar Bell, tricks aren’t just for kids when it comes to hula hooping. “It’s for grownups and kids,” says Bell. “It’s relaxing and you can exercise your waist if you’re feeling lazy and still want to exercise,” adds 8-year-old Marlowe Taylor.

GlowOrama: Backstage! Feb. 20. Free workshops and performances, 4–7; Supporters celebration, $20, 8–1am. Last Organic Outpost, 711 N. Emile. 713-850-1203. artx.org

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