Hoops fly across the hall as spunky Leona Rodrigues moves from student to student, teaching them the proper way of moving the wrist of their outstretched arm. We're at the beginner's hula-hoop workshop in Mumbai, trying to get large hoops to eventually spin around our waists so we can graduate to doing tricks. It's a 90-minute workshop, and at the end of the session, everyone's tired but beaming. Most of us have succeeded in learning a couple of complicated-looking tricks.
Hula hooping falls under the umbrella of arts that essentially involve object manipulation. This includes poi spinning, juggling, flair bartending and twirling. They're not quite a dance and not quite an adventure sport, but fall somewhere between the two. They are increasingly becoming popular in hurried Mumbai, which may not always have patience for, say, months of violin lessons, but is still interested in learning something new.
SHAKEN AND STIRRED
Ami Shroff, professional bartender for about a decade, practises flair bartending, which essentially includes juggling balls, bottles and even flaming objects. Shroff also plays around skillfully with a pair of nunchakus and is currently honing her skills to manipulate crystal balls. Others, like Shalini Moras of Pyrogami conducts workshops in staff-twirling and poi, in which tethered weights (often lit) are swung rhythmically in set patterns as you dance.
"Once you pick up one art, it's relatively simple to move on to the others," Shroff says. To the viewer, however, you're a thing of wonder as most of these arts are dramatic when witnessed live. Hands, eyes, shoulders, even heads and backs seem to instinctively know what to do to maintain the rhythm.
SWEATING IT OUT
Many workshops are aimed at fitness. Hoopnotism's Swati Shah, a trained fitness instructor, says that "20 to 30 minutes of hula hooping is great form of cardio as it burns up to 200 calories". At her classes, she often combines hoops with Pilates and other exercise regimes. "Waist-hooping works on your core, your pelvic and abdominal muscles and tones your abs," she says. "It also gives you rhythm, improves co-ordination and spinal flexibility, and lifts your mood."
The repetitive arm movement in a beginner poi class gives your less-used wealer left arm a workout, points out Shalini Moras of Pyrogami, who has performed in various Indian cities. "After a couple of weeks of practice though, your body is more flexible and you can progress to jumps, back-flips, roll-overs and handstands in your performances!"
Juggling and flair bartending, work on shoulders and arms and improve hand-eye coordination. A baton becomes part of the workout as you repetitively bend from the waist and spin the staff around your shoulders. Most fitness trainers see new forms like these as a way to keep things interesting for long-time gym-goers or those looking for a non-gym atmosphere.
Once you reach the stage where you can play with fire, literally, it can get addictive, promises Ishita Manek, who loves spinning the fire-poi on the beach after sunset. Rodrigues, who is now trying to perfect multiple-ring hooping and doing cartwheels while hooping, says it's a crazy rush when you perform with fire for the first time. "You can only hear the woosh of the fire and nothing else. There's fire going around your body, you know? It's overwhelming!"