SEDALIA — "Whirling meditation," ''blissful" and "performing art" are among the words Heather Hughes uses to describe her hula-hooping hobby.
Hughes, 24, of Dresden, can spin a large hoop around her waist, chest, arms and fingers for stretches of time without stopping. She can toss the ring in the air, catch it and begin spinning it again. Hughes is able to step in and out of the hoop, and roll it across her outstretched arms and back in a position like she is taking a bow.
Adults are often focused on activities for the purpose of work, exercise or other duties. Hughes said hooping gives her a break from those tasks of life and reminds her to play.
"Hoops are so associated with that sense of childhood, with that sense of play, it's almost like you can sidestep all those mental barriers and just play and that's amazing to me," she said.
When she isn't hooping or making the hoops, Hughes is busy being a mother to Abigail, 3, and Arlo, 1, and being a student at State Fair Community College, where she is studying to become a teacher. Hooping is a family affair for the Hugheses, as Abigail has a tiny hoop, and husband, Chris, also gives it a try on occasion.
"He says he does it just to make me look good," Heather Hughes said.
Hoop dancers at a concert sparked Hughes' interest in learning the art. She looked online to buy a hoop and discovered instructions for making her own.
"I realized by the time I paid shipping on getting the hoop here, I could just buy the stuff and do it myself," Hughes said.
Hughes can make hoops larger and heavier for adults. Hoops can also be weighted (up to 5 pounds) with water or sand to be used for exercise. Hughes uses irrigation tubing, which can be found in any hardware store. She makes a loop with the tubing and measures the height to her chest or waist. The larger the hoop, the slower it spins.
"They are a lot easier to keep going," she said.
Most of the adult hoops are made from 3 1/4-inch irrigation tubing. Children's hoops can be made from smaller tubing. Hughes uses connectors found in the plumbing section of a hardware store to connect the tubing. The hoops are decorated with colorful, shiny or glow-in-the-dark vinyl tape.
"I have to have all the fancy tapes," Hughes said.
The tape may get nicked or scratched, but the homemade hoops aren't going to bend or break like some of the traditional children's toys.
Hughes turned to Internet sites again to learn hoop tricks and moves, including YouTube, where hoop dancers often post videos. Beginners usually try to master moving the hoop around their waist first. Other beginning moves include the vortex, which is moving the hoop up and down from waist to chest. The vortex often leads to the pizza toss, where the hoop is moved up the body from the waist, off the arm and tossed in the air. Some hoopers perform isolation moves, which look like the hoop is moving in slow motion.
"In the hooping community, we think of tricks as vocabulary," Hughes said. "You can make a song or dance or tell a joke."
A hoop or two often make it into Hughes' car when she leaves her home. Students on SFCC's campus could see Hughes hooping in between classes. Hughes makes sure to bring along an extra hoop because people who see her hooping inevitably want to give it a try.
"You never know when you are going to have down time somewhere," she said.
Occasionally, Hughes will let out a giggle while demonstrating her hooping skills. A lot of times she listens to music and coordinates moves to the beat, which is where "hoop dance" comes from.
Hughes hoops "every day, all the time, whenever I can," which is a leap since she "never could do it as a kid." She compares hooping to yoga or tai chi.
"It really becomes a whirling meditation," she said. "To me, hooping is a very blissful thing."
Hooping also carries exercise benefits.
"You definitely get the improved coordination, strengthens your core and helps your back," she said.
Hughes thinks of hooping as a performing art or community outreach. She likes teaching children to hoop and believes everybody can learn to hoop as long as they practice.
"I like to hoop with kids. ... I think you give them something they can use physically, creatively and give them confidence," she said. "You can give them the joy of motion I think so many of us lose as we grow older."
Hughes sells her homemade hoops at festivals and the Sedalia Area Farmers' Market. She plans to be at the market Saturdays in July.