For years, Shannon Herrington jumped through the hoops of different fitness programs without finding any for which she felt real passion. She weighed 300 pounds in 2006 and felt socially awkward. Four years later, some of the weight was gone but she had still not found the purpose she was looking for.
Then she found the big hoops.
Hooping has changed Herrington’s life since January 2011, and now she is hoping to spread the movement in the community, widening the art’s circle of influence.
Herrington decided last January that she would “hoop or die.” She had tried hooping before but struggled with small hoops and floppy hoops. (While hooping may draw Hula-Hoops to mind, the simpler phrase is intentionally used since Wham-O owns the trademarked name.)
She spent the start of 2011 pulling old hoops out, using a hoop a friend made for her, and even buying her own kit and making hoops — none of it worked.
“I’m amazed, looking back, that I kept going,” she said. “There were times I was on the floor screaming, ‘My body is horrible; I can’t do this.’”
But then she found a class at the YMCA in Lexington and the teacher gave her something new — a big, thick hoop.
“I used her huge hoop — it was about as tall as me and 1 inch thick — and I could do it; I was doing the right movement,” Herrington said. “At this point, I had been trying for a month and still couldn’t do it. I had been doing the right thing — my hoop had just been too small.”
It took her weeks of practice to be able to keep the hoop off the ground for a minute as it spun around her body. Then she worked her way up to 16 minutes and stopped timing herself. When typical “waist hooping” bored her, she taught herself other tricks she saw in online videos. Three months later, she couldn’t stop.
“I was addicted; I craved hooping,” Herrington said. “I basically stopped the diet, but I exercised. I’ve never been one of those people that exercised just to exercise; I had to be on a diet to exercise. But I was exercising just because it was fun.”
The movement became less of a choreographed way to spin the hoop and more of a dance — something Herrington dreamed of doing when she was a child but had given up on.
“I wanted to be a prima ballerina, but I was overweight, and I was 9 by that point — that’s too old to start a ballerina career,” she said with a laugh. “But now, with hoop dance, I feel like I’m a dancer ... and now, I can tell my 9-year-old self that I’m a dancer; I’m not a prima ballerina, but I’m a dancer.”
Herrington found that the dance was not only good for her body; it lifted her spirits.
“The hoop is there to help me,” she said. “It’s like this perfect dance partner, because this dance partner won’t step on your toes; it won’t tell you you’re fat; it won’t say, ‘Oh, not right now, honey.’ This is a dance partner that’s always going to be there, ready for you to go.”
Getting others in the loop
Herrington has not kept it to herself. She knew that while there was a large online hooping community, there were not a lot of “big girls” who hooped.
“There are a lot of bigger bodies inside the hoop, but there are not a lot of famous bigger bodies inside the hoop,” she said. “I’m one of the very few who actually post videos online — which is something I would never do before hooping.”
She started her own blog — hooplove.org — and writes for hooping.org. She was even nominated for the 2012 “Newbie Hooper of the Year” award from the national website.
But Herrington, an instructor certified through BodyHoops, also has goals of getting local people in Jessamine County inside the hoop. She takes hoops to both her jobs; she hosted “hoop jams” last summer in public parks; she’s helped heavier people make their own hoops. She plans to have a hoop-building workshop at the Jessamine County Public Library this summer and will be involved in the Central Kentucky Health, Beauty and Fitness Expo at Main Event Martial Arts Academy on March 31.
She’s currently in the middle of an effort to bring a screening of the documentary film “The Hooping Life” to Nicholasville on May 19 to coincide with a teacher training for those who want to bring hooping into gym or dance programs May 19-20. She’s hoping that would be possible at City/County Park’s blue building.
“It will just be a few hours of watching a cool movie with some awesome people,” she said. “This isn’t just a girl activity; this is everyone: children, teenagers, boys, girls — that’s what this movie represents. Afterwards, we’ll have the hoop jam, and everybody can try to hoop; there will be hoops to try.”
Most people who see Herrington hooping in a park or at work or in front of Walmart will tell her they used to play with hoops as children. Herrington did not, and she had to learn as an adult that getting the hoop to spin around without hitting the ground is all about muscle memory.
“When a baby is trying to walk, they don’t walk 5 miles the first day — no, they have to build their muscle to remember that they’re walking and this is what walking is,” she said. “It’s the same thing with the hoop; you’ve got to build the muscles — and sometimes you can feel them working and sometimes you can’t; you’ve got to work them out to be able to do this trick, this move.”
Herrington’s desire to spread hooping comes from the change it has had in her life on physical, emotional and even mental levels.
“I don’t want anyone else to be where I was last January, crying to myself, thinking, ‘I can’t hoop; this isn’t possible,’” she said. “I want to help find others find joy in the hoop.
“I feel like I have a group, that I belong somewhere. I’ve gotten better self-esteem; I assume my fitness has been helped. I’m not drifting through life; I feel like I have a purpose, and my purpose is to hoop.”