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Giving a Hula-Hoop Workout a Whirl

In Kentucky, hoop dreams usually revolve around basketball, but when Rhonda Miller and her students get together, there isn't a net or a free-throw line to be found.

Miller, 28, of New Albany, Ind., teaches a kind of hooping that is one part rhythmic gymnastics and one part good, old-fashioned backyard child's play.

"I think the first appeal is the fun, but then after you start hooping, you start sweating," Miller said. "It's really good for your core area."

Miller, an art therapist by day, picked up hooping from a friend about 2 1/2 years ago and watched videos on YouTube for about six months to perfect her skills.

I "just became really addicted to it because it's really fun," she said. "You just gain this sense of accomplishment when you learn how to do a new trick, and so that kind of keeps you motivated."

Since then, she's met other hoopers in the area and has been teaching classes in Louisville and in Southern Indiana.

Hooping is grabbing attention nationally. Photographers even captured first lady Michelle Obama hooping at a healthy kids fair on the South Lawn of the White House in October.

There also are books and DVDs, such as "Hooping: A Revolutionary Fitness Program" (Workman Publishing, $15.95). That recent book-and-DVD combo features Christabel Zamor, whose version of hooping is called the HoopGirl Workout.

"We're continuing to struggle to keep up with the incredible number of orders and inquiries coming in, so it's been very successful," said Zamor, whose HoopGirl Inc. is based in the San Francisco Bay area.

Zamor has offered hooping classes since 2001. She also has six DVDs out and offers teacher training nationally and internationally.

People are attracted to hooping because "it doesn't feel like a workout in the sense that you don't have to dread doing it or sort of force yourself to go elsewhere to a gym," she said. "You can do it at home. You can do it in your yard. You can do it anywhere you like, so it's very mobile."

Also, "when you're hooping, it feels more like you're playing and enjoying yourself, and then losing weight is this wonderful, happy side effect," she said.

There also is a nostalgia factor to hooping, also known as hoop dance. Baby boomers "have fond memories of being able to hoop as a child," Zamor said.

But some things have changed. For example, Miller is among those who make their own hoops. "I think people are surprised when they try the handmade hoops how much easier they are compared to the store-bought ones," she said. "Some of the hoops that I make have water in them just to give them more weight, and you can purchase different types of tubes, like different weights of tubes."

Kat Rooks, 30, of Louisville, who's studied under Miller and other local teachers, said hooping is a chance to "not take yourself so seriously."

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