How the humble hula hoop can help Hongkongers get fit with fun

Emma Brown of Turning Circles talks about the benefits, for adults and youngsters alike, of taking up this simple childhood plaything and giving it a whirl

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 April, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 April, 2016, 12:03pm

Remember the hula hoop from your childhood? It’s no longer just a children’s toy but a new, dynamic way to work out. So says Emma Brown, 30, a hula hooping aficionado who credits her toned physique to the unusual sport.

She had received a hula hoop as a wedding present six years ago and began playing with her new toy in her free time during a short stint living in Thailand. “I couldn’t have guessed then how that wedding present would go on to change my life,” she says.

After mastering the hoop, she began coaching friends and students at a local school where she was a teacher. When she moved to Hong Kong three years ago, she discovered a lack of “hooping” in the city and decided it was time to shake things up and follow her dreams.

A year ago she started a company Turning Circles, offering everything related to hula hooping: from classes (for children and adults) to performances, handmade hula hoops and more. “It’s amazing all the things you can do with a hula hoop,” she says, likening it to “a type of dance which is done with a hoop for a partner”.

“I googled it and found that a 30-minute hula hoop workout, consisting of hooping moves and twirling motions around the arms, waist, and legs, burns roughly seven calories per minute,” says Brown, who is originally from the United States.

She hoops whenever she can between hiking and yoga. “I think it’s so important to enjoy what you do for exercise. It makes such a big difference when you like exercise and look forward to it.”

What is a hula hooping class, and what do you learn?

You learn different tricks and ways to move with the hoop, which can then be connected to form a “flow”, or dance. Hoop dance is great exercise which tones core and shoulder muscles, and improves coordination and focus. It’s also a creative outlet for self-expression. Classes are fun, as it is captivating and magical to watch, especially when you use fancy, LED-lit hoops. Look up “hula hoop dance” on YouTube or google it to see what I mean.

Hula hooping seems to be making a bit of a comeback. Why do you think this is so?

Because it’s awesome. When the hula hoop made its first appearance in the 1950s, it was only used around the waist. During the ’90s in the US, hoop tricks and hoop dances became accessible to the masses. Recently, hoops have begun appearing in circus acts, at festivals and even in gymnastic floor exercises at the Olympics. Now hooping is considered a fun and effective form of exercise.

Do many people hoop in Hong Kong?

It’s still new in Hong Kong, but it’s growing. Hula hooping has become popular rapidly in places such as the US, Britain, Australia, and Canada. For example, there is an urban hooping festival in Los Angeles on April 16, fusing hooping with yoga, contemporary dance, fashion, music, art and cutting-edge technology. There are many more such events around the world each year.

How does someone get started?

You can join one of my classes or come along to one of my free meet-up classes to learn more. I also take my hoops to local festivals such as Clockenflap.

How hard is it to hoop?

Hula hooping isn’t extremely physically demanding, but it is challenging in the sense that you’re always learning something new. Some tricks take months or years to perfect. Hooping regularly will build strength and tone. Once you get going it’s a surprisingly good cardio workout; it’s one of those sports where you’re concentrating on what you’re doing so much that you don’t realise you’re working out.

What do you think about when you hoop?

It’s more feeling than thinking. I find hooping extremely meditative – your body becomes trained in these minute actions until it becomes instinctive. It’s very relaxing.

What are the biggest changes to your body since you started hula hooping?

I get a lot of comments about my toned shoulders and arms. It’s funny, because at university I used to be a gym rat and lifted weights quite often, but have had much better results from hula hooping and yoga.

What is your favourite hula-hooping mantra?

When someone tries something for the first time and says, “I can’t do it”, I like to remind them,“you can’t do it – yet”. I believe you can learn anything if you just keep trying.

Give hooping a go; details at