Mum-of-three Julie McCaffrey tries out the childhood skill that has given Grace Jones a killer body at 64. Her gyrating hips were hypnotic. Her titchy tum transfixing. Six minutes of watching Grace Jones hula hooping her way through her Diamond Jubilee concert performance – while singing! – motivated me to exercise more than any personal trainer could in a month.
Grace is 64 and has a hand-span waist thanks to her hula. I’m decades younger and have a blancmange belly thanks to doughnuts. Time to do something about it. At 5ft 2in I can’t hope to have Grace’s lamppost legs. My pale blue-tinged Scots/Irish skin will never look that good oiled. And I don’t think I could carry off a latex leotard on my nursery run. But if my hips can balance my triplet toddlers surely they can swing a plastic hoop around? Although a concerned “friend” worried whether I would actually fit inside a hoop.
A quick internet search shows there are hooping communities and classes all over the country. Mazzula Hula (I’m guessing that’s not her real name), from Edinburgh, has made a career out of the hula hoop as a teacher and cabaret performer and has a slot free for a klutz like me.
“Do you go to the gym often?” asks Mazzula. I stare at my shoes.
“Neither do I,” she smiles. “Hooping is so much better fun than sweating it out in a gym.
“And it’s great for mum tums because it’s gentle but really effective at toning stomach muscles. One try and you’ll be addicted.”
At first I doubt if an addiction to hooping could quash my addiction to Drifter bars. But one look at Mazzula’s pancake-flat tummy and I’m ready to give it a go. My first attempt is hula-miliating. I whirl my hips around with the gusto of a washing machine on spin cycle but the hoop clatters to the ground. My second shot sees me whizz my waist as fast as a parachute in a tornado but the hoop slides to my ankles.When my third try fails I stamp my feet and fold my arms in a hula huff. At this rate, I can’t see my moves having the same effect as Grace’s did on my hubby. He drooled when he watched Grace. He would cry laughing if he saw me.
“You only need to make a very small movement with your hips,” soothes Mazzula.
“Just nudge the hoop along with its momentum. Stand with one foot slightly in front of the other, bend your knees and relax.”
Within minutes, I’ve got it. The hoop twirls around my waist and I feel the same eureka exhilaration I did when I first swung a spanking new red hoop in my parents’ garden as a child of the 70s. A huge grin stays on my face for as long as the hoop stays on my waist. A man and his son, who were playing football in the park and had been whooping at my hooping, cheer. I love this lark! Out of all the celebrity slimming secrets I’ve tried, I think I’ll stick with this one. When Geri Halliwell showed off her yoga-toned bod I signed up for an intensive day-long Ashtanga session but had a huge chocolate brownie at break time and skived the rest of the day in shame. And there’s only so long a girl can wear four pairs of pants like Adele before things get, well, inconvenient. But because hula hooping makes me feel like a child again, I am already hooked. I know it’s whittling my waist, because while hooping I can feel long-forgotten tummy muscles tensing. Just 10 minutes of hooping burns 100 calories, which is almost a Kit Kat. But if you need more science information, a study by the American Council on Exercise found an hour of working out with a hoop burns as many calories per minute as step aerobics and boot camp.
“We were very surprised, actually,” says John Porcari, a researcher for the study and an exercise physiologist.
“You think of hula hooping as just a recreational thing that kids do. But our studies showed it pushed heart rates up to 150, which is pretty high.
“Findings proved that hooping delivers a total body work-out that can improve flexibility and balance while strengthening the back, abdominal, arm and leg muscles.”
Better still, hooping is the perfect recession exercise because you can hoop in your living room barefoot and in old leggings and a T-shirt so there is no need to buy expensive gym memberships or invest in specialist sportswear. Classes are dance-based and devotees enthuse about the exercise high they enjoy. But classes aren’t essential as many hoopers post how-to videos online, which is how self-taught Mazzula learned her skills. And the only kit you need is a hoop, which costs just £3.99 for the original Hula Hoop from www.Wham-O.com.
Mazzula cuts costs even further by making her own hoops.
She says: “I buy different weights of tubing and connectors from plumbing wholesalers and wind it with colourful tape. The perfect hoop size for you would measure from the top of your hip bone to the floor.
“Making your own hoop also means you can choose a weight that suits. The heavier the hoop the easier it is to use as they rotate slower around the body, whereas a lighter hoop from a toy store will take very fast hips to keep it at waist level.”
Most of all, hooping is infectious fun. Mazzula says: “I hear shrieks of laughter during classes and love the fact that even grannies join in because it reminds them of their childhoods.
“We put on some great dance music and just find our groove. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, no rigid rules.
“Soon you and your friends can have hoop-offs as you show off your tricks. It’s a laugh, it’s cool and, as Grace Jones proves, it’s sexy.”
I’m off to buy some plumbing tubing and tape to make my own hula hoop and I aim to spend the summer swirling my hopefully ever decreasing hips in circles. And as for that concerned “friend”, I would ask you to remember the fierce slapping Grace Jones once gave chat show host Russell Harty…