The Audacity of Hoop: Will the Obamas Make It Hip?

By Vicky Hallett
Monday, January 19, 2009

Barack Obama has made no secret of his love for shooting hoops. But you may be surprised to learn that Michelle Obama is apparently more comfortable spinning them. She was photographed at her daughter Malia's birthday picnic last year showing off a few tricks. Although a transition aide -- who didn't want to be identified on grounds that it might be embarrassing -- asserted that it's not something the soon-to-be first lady does regularly, she did allow that Michelle is quite adept with a hoop. "She can walk and stuff" while keeping the hoop rotating, our source divulged.

Word of Michelle's skills has the hooping community buzzing, particularly in Washington, where several instructors have been recently certified by Hoopnotica, a California-based group that has standardized ways to teach moves. And just about all hooping enthusiasts are waiting for that invitation to get together on the East Lawn.

"I've created this daily vision of me hooping with Michelle, Malia and Sasha," says Jocelyn Gordon, a local yoga instructor who's also a hoop enthusiast.

Dreaming of it as a family affair makes sense. After all, hooping has transformed from the 1960s-era kids fad into adult-friendly hoop dance, a bona fide art form that requires fancy footwork while you swirl the prop on and off your body. Also key to its broader appeal: the introduction of heavier, larger hoops that are easier for grown bodies to keep in motion.

While hooping feels like silly fun, after a lengthy session you'll know you've worked out. "You can do it on your arm, wrist, neck, shoulders, chest, ankles. Most people think it's just the stomach, but it's total body and requires incredible stamina," promises Noelle Powers (, who has taught hooping workshops at the White House Athletic Center under the Bush administration and runs classes at Joe's Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier.

Just ask Tina Bauch (, who hooped in the Manassas Christmas parade, teaches at the World Gym in Gainesville and credits the hours she has spent doing her new hobby with "lifting up areas that gravity pulls down."

Martine Koissy, who teaches hooping at FemFit in Rockville, was shocked to drop eight pounds in eight weeks when she picked up the sport in 2006. Even more surprising was the effect on what she called her spaghetti arms: "One day I was brushing my teeth, saw muscle and thought, 'Where did that come from?' "

Even if Michelle doesn't need any extra toning, she'll certainly be able to use another benefit of hooping. "You can hoop in a slow, meditative groove," Koissy explains. "It helps me with anxiety: If I'm stressed, I can hoop it off."

And hooping can involve some complicated feats. It sounds as if Michelle has already mastered the beginner moves: walking with the hoop, turning, hooping on the hips (which requires a slightly different motion than abdomen hooping). But how about "the corkscrew"? That's when you start with the hoop around your tummy, lift it up in a swirl over your head so it's rotating around your wrist and then take it back down to your waist with a graceful turn.

Part of hooping culture is devoted to the creation of unique hoops; there are detailed instructions at Many practitioners craft their own and would love to send a personalized hoop to the White House. "I'd want to know the favorite colors of her daughters. I'd definitely include some sort of sparkle and an affirmation, like, 'You go, girl' or 'I'm awesome,' " Gordon promises.

But please be careful about where you're spinning that thing, Powers warns. "Do it in a place with high ceilings and not a lot of furniture around. Particularly when you're doing it on your arm, it can fly away," she says. "I would shy away from hooping near important vases." In most people's houses, you might wreck the TV. At the White House, an errant hoop could cause global catastrophe.

So Malia and Sasha, watch out. We've heard how Dad feels about the activity. In a People article last year, he was quoted as saying, "That is one thing you will never see: me hula-hooping."

But Mr. President-elect, Bauch is hoping you'll change your mind. "He looks like he can work a hoop, too."

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