Since I'm on the topic of throwing weights around, I thought I'd take a hoop with me to the studio yesterday. I bought one of the things quite a while ago, and being used to hula hoops being $4.99 pieces of slave-labor constructed crap, I thought I massively overpaid for it at the time. It turns out that large-diameter hoops that break down for travel can be north of $70, depending on size, so $19.95 at Marshall's was just short of stealing it. This one's about three feet in diameter -- large enough for me to use as an ersatz jump rope without whanging myself in the back of the head constantly.

I'd forgotten that it's quite heavy for a hoop. I look like a kidnapped princess now -- big stripes of amorphous bruise around my midsection right about at prime tentacle-wrapping height, and some interesting blotches on my hands and forearms, from rolling the hoop around my wrists. Whoops. I felt it roll over bone a few times, but I didn't realize it was quite that forceful.

It turns out I'm weirdly good at this as well. I have a better idea of what I'm supposed to be doing with it, other than the hula, now that I've had a chance to see some of the local hoop dancers up close and personal. (Little L performs with the Boston Circus Guild, and Lolli Hoops teaches classes around town.) I need practice, obviously, but the mechanics seem simple enough.

Hoops have periodicity, just like pendulums. The period of a pendulum is determined by its length; the period of a hoop is determined by its circumference. Smaller hoops weigh less and take less effort to flick around, but have to be spun faster, while larger hoops take more effort to spin, but can rotate slower. I don't know if it's the preferred way to spin the things, but the most comfortable way for me to do it is to stand with my feet shoulder-width apart, brace on my right, and bump the hoop around with the front of my left hip. I hoop clockwise. I can do it counterclockwise as well, but something about my movement isn't quite symmetrical, and it's not as easy.

The hoop is a bit like an orbiting body, in that it's constantly falling, but gravity in this case is acting at right angles (roughly) to rotation, regardless of whether you've got the hoop horizontal around you or vertical around an arm or a leg. You bump it up or down your body by either catching it and throwing it upwards a bit early, or by catching it a bit late after letting it drop. Rotating it around anything lower than your hips turns into less of a round motion and more of a shimmy-pop -- it doesn't actually matter if your knees are circling or not as long as the bump you give the hoop sends it in right direction, which in this case is a line tangent to the orbit at the instant of contact. I've seen Lolli and Little L roll hoops around their ankles, but my hoop is too big/heavy or I just don't have enough experience to manage that one yet.

Hoopers often spin the hoop like a giant coin around themselves before they swing it over their heads. I've no idea how most people do that one. I'm fine at it but probably cheating, inasmuch as I can get my hand through almost 360° if I'm rotating my arm inwards. I find it easier than baton twirling, mainly because with hoops, it's possible to time the rotation such that you're in no danger of whacking yourself in the nose. With a horizontal baton, you've always got an end coming right at your face. For what it's worth, the most comfortable way to do that one is also right-handed, and spinning the hoop clockwise both relative to itself and relative to me.

Hoops bounce. Quite well. Mine bounced into the mirror several times. Thank god for neoprene. You can do it on purpose, but I opted not to try it this time around, until I figured out whether I was going to be constantly injuring myself or not.