BRUNSWICK, Maine — Skirts twirled around revolving hips Friday afternoon as a group of 60 hard-core hula hoopers gathered in a sunny field here for New England’s first hooping festival.
Lady Gaga pumped through speakers as Carolyn Mabry, 48, of Raleigh, N.C. — better known as Caroleena from her instructional hooping YouTube videos — told the women to “put on their stilettos and strut.”
The women picked up their feet, knees high up, as they rotated hula hoops in and out of their legs, causing an illusion that resembled a sort of fan dance.
“This is hot and sassy, I love it,” Mabry said.
But a lot of the women were having difficulty. Some colorful runaway hoops headed for the hills.
“This hurts your brain. It’s not hard, but you really have to figure it out,” Mabry told the group through a microphone on her headset.
After about 10 minutes of struggling with the dance, everyone seemed to find their rhythm.
About 90 festival-goers each paid about $375 for the four-day event HoopFest New England, which ends Sunday.
Maria Randolph, 42, of Warren, organized the event, which features hooping workshops, vendors selling hoop products and camping on-site.
Hooping, which involves a large hula hoop — usually about 1-2 pounds and up to chest-height — integrates fitness, dancing and meditation. The hobby has been catching on as a national trend and, according to Randolph, is taking off in Maine.
“Portland and Bangor have strong groups already and it’s catching on,” she said.
“You can go to Target and find adult-sized hoops now,” said a hooping instructor, who only gave her stage name — Lolli Hoops — as she stood next to Randolph in the field where hoopers gathered Friday.
“It’s hitting the mainstream. Martha Stewart had a section on it,” Randolph said.
“Yeah. you see it on TV — Michelle Obama is a hooper, Beyonce is a hooper,” said Hoops, who had feathers hanging from her curly, red hair.
The reason the activity is catching on, the women decided, is because it’s very easy to get started, but there are always more intense tricks to learn.
“The cool thing is that people are coming up with more cool ways to use such a simple object. I’ve never been bored hooping. There is always something new,” Hoops said. “It’s an art form in development — it’s not like ballet where all the rules are carved in stone.”
Randolph teaches beginner hooping along the midcoast in Camden and Rockland. But like most people, Randolph started by learning the basics online. Once she learned a few tricks, she was addicted. So when she searched for a hoop conference to attend, she was disappointed that the nearest one was in North Carolina.
“I thought, we should have one in New England. There were none. I asked around and immediately got support [for this idea],” she said. “I really didn’t think this would happen this year, but there was so much enthusiasm.”
Now the hoopers, who arrived Thursday night at the Brunswick campground, are partaking in myriad hoop workshops including fire hooping, flips and twists, twin hooping [two hoops], clowning while hooping, and making illusions with hoops.
Participants came from as far as New Mexico to attend HoopFest.
“It’s phenomenal,” Randolph said. “You wouldn’t get all these instructors in one place otherwise.”
That’s why Robin “Revolver” Weiss, 48, of Milford, Conn., came to Maine.
“We’re the best in our area, so to learn more, you have to leave home,” Weiss said of her and her friend, who teach hooping in Connecticut. “I have to go where the teachers are.”
When she picked up a hoop two years ago Weiss didn’t expect to be very good. She hates exercise. But the videos she found online about hooping seemed neat, so she tried it.
“It’s like meditation. I started because I don’t like to exercise. This is fun and it’s exercise.”
She gets a bit of flack for her concentric workouts.
“My whole family is so embarrassed. They’re conservative and they think I’m weird. It’s because I’m old. I fire hoop. They freaked out when I started doing that,” she said, smiling.
Fire hooping, which all the hoopers at HoopFest will have an opportunity to do in one workshop, involves lighting the outside of a hoop on fire and then manipulating the blazing hoop up and down a person’s body.
Weiss sat next to her friend Jennifer Bailey of Limerick as she ate a sandwich.
Bailey has been hooping for about 4 years now.
“I started all by myself. Then I was at some festival and I saw someone hooping and thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen,” she said. “So I went on YouTube to learn it.”
“Me too,” the other two girls sitting at her lunch table shouted.
“We all know Caroleena from the Internet. She’s famous,” said Amy “Dolly Danger” Irish, 37, of Stamford, Conn.
Caroleena, who has about 30 tutorial videos on YouTube, said she wasn’t very good when she started.
“I couldn’t hoop at all as a kid. I thought there was something wrong with me,” she said, laughing. Then her friend told her to get a big hoop, not the kid-sized ones they sell in most stores. “That opened up everything. It opened up my dancing and everything else. I dropped 25 pounds right away.”
She became passionate enough to create what she says is the first hooping conference in the world, down in North Carolina.
“This is what hoopers do. They love playing, but they have no one to play with so they start gatherings. This festival will help grow these communities in Maine,” she said.
HoopFest workshops Sunday are open. They are $30 per class at Thomas Point Beach Campground and start at 9 a.m. People should bring their own hoops.