Around and around her hips spins the silvery striped hoop. Around both legs it spins, then around just one leg, then an arm, then her slender neck. Dancing in sleek, flare-legged trousers, she could be a mermaid. Spinning on one shoulder, then another, the hoop whirs and blurs.
Merging Native American ceremonial dance with the late-Sixties Hula Hoop, "hooping" is 21st-century aerobics with a house beat. Enrolling in her first hoopdancing class two years ago, Nicole Wong had never before seen it performed. Her childhood dalliance with hot-pink Hula Hoops was ancient history.
Watching the teacher begin that first class, "I was mesmerized," Wong said. "I should have been intimidated. I had no prior dance experience and I have never considered myself much of an athlete. However, there was something inherently inviting and non-intimidating about the hoop. Having nothing more than a positive attitude, I was able to pick up many of the moves that evening."
Two years later, Wong is now a professional hoopdancer. As the founder of Berkeley's Cherry Hoops, she performs at private parties and corporate events such as a Lady Gaga-themed party in Oakland earlier this year for Yelp's Elite members, whom Wong dazzled by hoopdancing go-go-style in a black leotard, red hoodie, supersize sunglasses, platinum wig, and glowing hoop. She can spin multiple hoops at one time, invents her own moves — such as the quick-leg-lift "flamingo pass" — and makes her own hoops. She also offers workshops such as Introduction to Hoopdance at the Veterans Memorial Building (4321 Salem St., Emeryville) on Tuesday, July 6.
Wong divides her days between hoopdancing and working toward a Ph.D in education at UC Berkeley. At Cal, "I study the ways people think and learn, and I work on a number of research projects that investigate the conditions that best support learning." What she learns from these projects comes in handy during hoopdance classes "in terms of tailoring my instruction to support a wide variety of learners," she said. "My students are individuals with individual needs. They have different learning styles, backgrounds in fitness and dance, body shapes and sizes, and goals for the class. Some students are looking for a fun way to spend time with their friends, some are looking for a new workout, and some aspire to be hardcore hoopers."
The hooping scene is growing exponentially, with the polyethylene rings spinning everywhere from Burning Man to Cirque de Soleil — sometimes on fire.
For Wong, "the best thing about hoopdance is that it keeps me active but it doesn't feel like a workout. ... Since I started hooping two and a half years ago, I have noticed that I have more endurance, I am stronger, and I have more muscle tone in my legs, abs, and arms. More importantly, hoopdancing has made exercise a fun and regular part of my daily life. I can't believe that I now look forward to exercising." 7 p.m., $15-$20. CherryHoops.com