A little time had passed since Becky Fuller last picked up a hula hoop.
"I didn't think I could do it anymore because I'm not 6 anymore," she said. "Maybe I was 10. But it's been a good 30 years."
When she picked up a hoop recently at the downtown branch of the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region, she was surprised how easily it came back. This time, it wasn't as a toy, but a fitness tool.
"It's fun. It doesn't feel like a workout," she said.
Possibly invented by the ancient Greeks as a form of exercise, popularized by the children of baby boomers in the 1950s and 60s and scorned as kitsch by subsequent generations of Americans, the hula hoop has come full circle.
Across the country, fitness buffs are discovering, or rediscovering, the hula hoop.
"No one thinks that hula hooping is even a way to be fit and it's just like a kids' thing, but it's not just for kids," said Stephanie Donaldson, who started teaching a hula hoop fitness class at the YMCA this spring. She calls it "hoop dancing" and said she lost 30 pounds, not on the treadmill or exercise bike, but with the hoop.
"A lot of people think it's a circular motion, but it's really back and forth. That's why you get a good core workout," Donaldson said. "It's so much fun. You're going to love it."
"The key is to never stop picking it up off the ground."
Perhaps Donaldson sensed my frustration.
I will sum up my experience 10 minutes into the class. Spin the hoop around my waist and flail in vain as it makes a quick retreat to the floor. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Spin the hoop around my hand until it flies and hits the wall or another hooper. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Hit myself in the face repeatedly. Knock the same empty energy drink can over three times.
But the sweat stinging my eyes told me I was getting a workout.
Then Donaldson told me to get a bigger hoop.
The hoops Donaldson makes come in all shapes and sizes for all skill levels and different maneuvers. And by some trick of physics, the larger and thicker the hoop, the easier to keep twirling around you. Sure enough, I was able to keep an inch-thick, 6-foot-wide hoop spinning for 20 seconds. But any of the tricks Donaldson executed so expertly remained safely beyond me.
As the only male in the class over the age of 9, I had to ask: Do you have to be a woman to be good at this?
Absolutely not, said Sarah Zellmer, who fell in love with hooping at concerts. Attend a concert that attracts granola types, such as Colorado's own String Cheese Incident, and you'll see plenty of guys twirling to the music.
"It's like dancing and fun, but it's still a workout. It'll make you sweat," Zellmer said. "People don't think it is, but they come over and touch your head and are like, 'Wow, you're actually working.'"
During a 50-minute class, Donaldson demonstrated many ways that a spinning hoop can be used for fitness. The initial whip, which must be level to work. The classic back-and-forth, core-busting motion. Arm twirls to add an upper-body component. Behind-the-knees dancing. Transitioning an over-the-head lasso into a waist spin.
The goal is a fluidity that dazzles the eye and melts away the calories while you're having so much fun you don't even notice. Research has shown that hooping burns as many calories per minute as boot camp classes, step aerobics or very brisk walking.
Donaldson hopes people put what they learn in class to practice. After all, it's an activity that can be done about anywhere.
After hula-hooping only twice since childhood, Fuller felt like she was getting better. I felt I was not.
"Practice makes perfect," she encouraged. "Keep trying. I hit myself in the head a lot."