More Images » Hula hoops are replacing yoga mats as the hippest new fitness accessory. Cyclists have been seen with colourful hoops looped over their shoulders, and more subway riders have been spotted carrying them, too. If you’ve been to Montreal’s Lafontaine Park in the evening this summer, chances are, you’ve seen the colourful hoops in action, flying around the hips of participants in outdoor fitness classes.These are not the Wham-O hula hoops that sold by the millions during the hoop craze of the 1950s. Today’s fitness hoops are heavier; they require a little more effort to swing, but are far easier to keep in motion. “It’s gone from no one’s ever heard of it to everyone knowing someone who hoops,” said Amy Goldstein, the Los Angeles-based director of The Hooping Life, a documentary that will be screened at the Montreal World Film Festival. Goldstein began interviewing hoopers in 2002, after she noticed what she describes as a “hooping subculture.”But hula hoopers say this new fitness trend is here to stay — not only because it provides an intense workout, but because, unlike most fitness routines (think a half-hour on the treadmill), it’s just plain fun.”I’m not a big exerciser. I sit at my computer all day,” Heather Newell, 34, said during a hooping class at Lafontaine Park. Yet since Newell, an English instructor at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal, got into the activity last summer, she’s been hooping twice a week. For how long? “I usually hoop a TV show or an episode of Lost on DVD,” she said.Newell has noticed the physical benefits: “After about a month of hooping almost every day, I lost three inches around my waist.”Marianne Trenka, a hooping instructor at Ballet Ouest Centre de Danse, a dance studio in the Montreal suburb of Pointe Claire, finds that hooping — like yoga and Pilates — strengthens the body’s core muscles. “You learn to engage your abdominal muscles in a way that makes your stomach look flatter and improves your posture,” she said.Liliane Archambault has been taking courses at Lafontaine Park through IHOOPU, a Montreal-based company that also makes and sells weighted hoops. Another hoop maker Montreal yoga studio Studios Vert Prana, has also been offering hooping classes at the park. Hoops range in price from $40 for a standard one to $60 for a collapsible model.Archambault, 32, a nurse, says she was drawn to hooping for the sheer pleasure: “The first time I learned to spin the hoop around my neck, I thought to myself, ’Yeah, baby!’ “Exactly when and where the hula-hoop revival began is difficult to pinpoint. Goldstein believes it originated at Grateful Dead and String Cheese Incident concerts: “Concertgoers moved to the music for hours on end and were part of the show. Adults felt free to play.”She can see why it has caught on. “It’s inclusive and not competitive. Everyone can hoop. It’s inexpensive, hip and sexy. Hooping makes you feel alive inside and out,” she said. It helps, too, that hooping has celebrity cachet. Just as Desperate Housewife Teri Hatcher helped popularize pole dancing, actress Marisa Tomei did her bit for hooping when, in April, she told Ellen DeGeneres she hoops to stay in shape.When Rebecca Halls founded IHOOPU in 2005, she offered one hooping class a week. Now she employs 10 teachers and offers four classes a week, as well as monthly workshops and a teacher-training program. In its first year, the company sold 25 hoops; last year, it sold about 1,500.Halls says she knew from the first time she spun a hoop around her waist that hooping would take off. “You don’t feel like you’re working out. There’s a circus feel to it because there are tricks, and it’s sexy. We don’t often get to move our hips in that way,” said Halls, who was interviewed by phone from Taiwan, where she is teaching hooping and performing with a group of international circus artists.Kelli Hanrahan, 33, an IHOOPU instructor, has never met anyone she couldn’t teach to hoop — even at children’s birthday parties.Hanrahan begins her class with some gentle warm-up exercises. Standing inside their hoops, students hold them and twist their shoulders from side to side. Soon it’s time to start. “You need a nice solid stance,” Hanrahan tells her students. “You can either stand with one foot in front of the other, or with your feet parallel, hip-width apart.” Students keep their hoops horizontal, resting against their lower backs. Then, depending on the position of their feet, they either push their hoops forward and backward, or from side to side, to launch them into a spin.If her students’ hoops start to drop, Hanrahan calls out SOS instructions. “You can speed it up, or turn with your hoop, or” — and here she stops to demonstrate — “you can do a butt scoop.” Hanrahan lowers her body, and shimmies the hoop back up to her waist.Lise Gregoire, 67, was a teenager in the 1950s, when hula hoops first hit the market in a big way. But as a youngster, Gregoire recalls, “I tried my friends’ hoops. I wasn’t good at it, so I didn’t enjoy it.”Gregoire’s daughter, hooping teacher Marianne Trenka, convinced her mother to give hooping another try. “I fell in love with it. It’s really a workout for every part of the body, not just the waist. We also hoop around our necks, arms, and we swing our hoops from back to front, which extends our chests and backs,” Gregoire said. For Mother’s Day, she got her own hoop.In addition to taking a weekly class through Ballet Ouest Centre de Danse, Gregoire has been hooping in her backyard. When the weather cools down, she plans to keep hooping, in the basement.Another benefit of hooping is that it’s a great way to meet people. As filmmaker Goldstein puts it, “The hoop is a welcoming signifier to anyone you encounter. It says, ’Hey, come play with me.’ “Trenka has noticed that, when she’s carrying her hoops, people often stop to chat with her. “I was on the bus going to a hooping class downtown and I had my two hoops with me. I was reading my book, minding my own business, when these two guys started asking me about hooping. If I didn’t already have a boyfriend, I might have gone out with one of them,” she said.Hoopers planning to practise indoors this fall and winter need to take some precautions, warns Valerie Lemieux, 28, a public health researcher who makes hoops for IHOOPU in her free time. All summer, Lemieux has been hooping in Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood at either Laurier Park or Lafontaine Park. But when the weather’s bad, she hoops in her dining room. Though she moves the table out of the way, there have been some casualties. “I’ve broken two lamps already, and, last week, a mirror,” she said.—Timeline: from Wham-O to White House1948: Richard Knerr and Arthur (Spud) Melin found the Wham-O company in a garage in Los Angeles.1958: Inspired by an Australian children’s game that used a bamboo hoop, Knerr and Melin release the first plastic hoop and trademark the name Hula-Hoop. Within four months, they sell 25 million Hula-Hoops.1960: Though the hula-hoop fad has begun to fade, Wham-O has sold more than 100 million hoops.1982: Wham-O is purchased by Kransco Group Companies.1994: Mattel buys Wham-O from Kransco Group Companies.1996: The String Cheese Incident, a jam band, begins throwing handmade adult-size hoops into the audience at concerts for their fans to play with.1997: Anah (Hoopalicious) Reichenbach starts hooping and brings the hoops into the underground dance community and rave music scene. She soon begins making and selling them and teaching others how to hoop.2003: Hooping.org launches. The website spreads the news about hooping, and hoopers begin to find each other. A hooping community emerges.2007: On July 7, hoopers on six continents celebrate the first World Hoop Day.2009: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama hula hoops on the White House lawn.Source: www.hooping.orgHow to make your own hula hoopBoth IHOOPU and Studios Vert Prana offer hoop-making workshops. But if you have the right equipment, it isn’t hard to make your own weighted hoop.Valerie Lemieux, who makes hoops for IHOOPU, gave us a hoop-making lesson. Though you’ll need to invest in supplies, the average cost of making your own is 0 to 5.1. You’ll need irrigation tubing (the kind used for underground sprinkler systems) from a hardware store. The tubing generally comes in 10- or 100-foot lengths. You can buy one-half, three-quarter or one-inch tubing. “I’d recommend three-quarter or one-inch tubing for a newbie. It’s easier to keep your hoop rotating if it’s heavier,” Lemieux said.A 36-inch-diameter hoop will suit a small person; 38 inches is standard; 42 inches will suit someone taller.2. Cut the tubing with a ratcheting PVC cutter (this looks like an X-acto knife, with a bit that holds the tubing in place). You’ll need either a double-ended (ridged on both sides) copper connector or a double-ended (ridged on both sides) plastic poly coupling connector (also available at a hardware store; be sure it’s the right fit for the tubing) to connect the tubing.Before you insert the coupling connector, use hot water or a blow dryer to heat both ends of the pipe tubing, then slide in the connector. Allow the hoop to cool for 10 minutes. Lemieux also likes to use duct tape to ensure the hoop stays sealed.3. Use decorative tape to personalize your hoop. Wind the tape around the hoop, pressing down with your thumb as you work to avoid bubbles or wrinkles. Lemieux buys colourful vinyl tape at the dollar store. For a more dramatic effect, she orders decorative fluorescent tape online from www.hooping.org.