Hips don’t lie. Neither do the arms, neck, hands, legs or any other body part around which a Hula-Hoop can spin. There’s a special combination of grace and coordination that keeps that big, plastic circle spinning around your hips. Just ask Jenny Carr, a hooper who has been gyrating in the Bangor area for the past year.
Carr, 32, has practiced Middle Eastern dance, or belly dance, for years, but only picked up a Hula-Hoop in April 2008, after an article in a magazine piqued her interest.
“I read a little blip about it in a dance magazine about a year and a half ago,” said Carr, a slim, muscular woman with a confident, energetic attitude. “It said it combined belly dance, hip-hop and Hula-Hoops. I was definitely intrigued. It was new and it was really visually appealing. There are a lot of things you can do with it.”
Within six months, Carr had taken her considerable belly dance skills and applied them to her newfound passion. Shortly after that, she completed a hoop-dance certification program, and began teaching classes in Portland and Bangor.
Now, Carr makes her own hoops, out of a special type of irrigation tubing and rolls of multicolored electrical tape. In performance, she adds in LED lights and glow-in-the-dark tape to make a visual spectacle that’s partly belly dance, partly circus performance and always gracefully unique. She brings stacks of her hoops to her classes, held twice weekly at Valance Fitness & Pilates Studio on Main Street in Bangor.
“There’s definitely been an increase in interest in hooping, both in this area and nationwide,” said Carr. “There’s kind of a craze for it now. There’s a Web site called hoopnotica.com that has a lot of information and educational videos on it.”
Her students, who range in age from 20 to 70, are attracted to hooping for its focus on balance and its excellent abdominal and arm muscle control and toning. A few in the class also are belly dancers, but many are just curious people looking for a fun way to exercise.
Middle Eastern music, trance, hip-hop and pop songs thump from speakers, as the hoopers spin at various rates of speed and coordination. Some work on just their hips, while others spin the hoops around their hands, over their heads, and flip them up and around their entire bodies. Carr works with all levels of skill, and encourages newcomers to learn at their own speed. Regardless, it’s definitely a very good workout.
“It burns 600 to 800 calories per hour. It’s really intensive cardio. People are always surprised how sore they are the first few times they do it,” said Carr. “Your obliques and lower back in particular get very strong, very quickly. I also hear from students that it really helps your digestion and your stomach, because you’re essentially massaging your stomach muscles when you do it.”
Erin Switzer, a longtime belly dancer in the area, started hooping with Carr earlier this year, as an addition to her regular Middle Eastern dance classes and performances.
“You use a lot of the same muscles as belly dance, just in a different way,” said Switzer, 31, who will dance along with Carr at Paraween II, a Halloween-themed dance, drum and hooping event 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Penobscot Conservatory, 570 North Main St., Brewer. “Belly dance tends to move a little faster, whereas with hooping, you’ve got to remain steady and go a little slower.”
At 71, Sue Owen had never picked up a Hula-Hoop in her life. That is, until she saw Carr perform some of her routines at a Latin dance class she and her husband took with instructor Karen McCall, also at Valance Studio.
“I try to exercise every day, and I was looking for something new and fun to try,” said Owen of Orono. “I like how good it is for your core muscles, and I like being able to learn new things that will be fun to do with my grandchildren. I’ve learned a few tricks to show them. They love it. They’re 5 and 7, and they both can do it really well now.”
A novice hooper may very well find the first few hooping sessions a bit difficult — it’s nowhere near as easy as it looks. The sharp crack of a hoop hitting the ground after it falls from your arms or hips is a sound you have to get used to, before you start getting the, ahem, swing of it.
“Like anything, it takes patience. You’ve got to drop it a few hundred times before it really clicks,” said Carr. “Then you kind of just feel it, and know intuitively where the hoop is and where your hips are. Then you can start experimenting.”
Outside of classes, Carr, who goes by the name Sennyo when she’s dancing, performs regularly at dance showcases around the state, such as today’s Paraween event. She’s always looking for new moves to try, and new ways to present her dance style.
“There are so many tricks now that are popping up. I see all these new variations in videos online, and I think ‘Ooh! I want to try that!” said Carr. “There are still so many new things to try. It’s a very young dance form.”
Jenny Carr’s hooping classes are held 7-8 p.m. Thursdays and 9-10 a.m. Saturdays at Valance Fitness & Pilates Studio at 128 Main St. in Bangor. Carr will also soon start classes at the University of Maine Student Recreation and Fitness Center. Today’s Paraween Event includes a showcase 7-10 p.m., featuring belly dancers, hooping, drumming and a performance by magician Dr. Wilson of his Chrysalis escape, as part of the Worldwide Escape Artist Relay. Admission is $5 with a Halloween costume, $15 without. For information, call 385-3512.