Hooping in Bristol: Do the hula with a hoop
Bristol was recently voted the best hooping community in the world, and Emma Kerr was named best instructor. She tells Suzanne Savill how she gave up a career as an immunologist to show others how to hula hoop.
Emma Kerr was studying for a PhD in immunology at the University of Bristol, and seemed destined to spend her days in a laboratory wearing a white coat.
Then she discovered hula hooping.
"I'd never been able to do hooping, even as a child. I just couldn't do it. I assumed there was something wrong with me," she says.
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"Then I was at a festival and a hula hoop teacher got me to try with a 44-inch hoop. I had a go and I could do it!"
As she talks, Emma is surrounded by piles of brightly coloured hula hoops.
For not only did Emma learn to hoop, she also became so passionate about it that she went on to teach others, and eventually gave up her job in a research laboratory to teach hooping full time.
Recently she was named the world's best hooping teacher at an annual hooping awards called the Revolvies, which also gave Bristol the title of the world's best hooping community.
Bristol – which is the venue for the UK's biggest annual hoop gathering, SWHoop – was also named best hooping community in the Hoopies awards.
"I became obsessed with hooping," says Emma, 31, who has been running hooping classes for the past eight years all over Bristol and now runs Hooping Mad, which has classes at the Folk House in Clifton, and in Bishopston, Easton, St Werburghs, Windmill Hill, Totterdown and Bedminster.
"I see it happening in my students. They think they're not the sort of person who can hula hoop and all of a sudden they pick up a hoop and they can do it.
"It's one of my favourite things about teaching – seeing how people realise they can do hooping and becoming passionate about it.
"Anyone can do it. It doesn't matter how old you are or how big you are."
Watching Emma as she spins hoops from every available limb is an impressive sight.
But even more impressive is her enthusiasm for hooping, and for her students.
"You can hoop on any part of your body. There are hundreds of different ways of moving, and hundreds of different styles.
"It's like any other form of dance – all sorts of different genres, belly hoop, burlesque, ballet, dance hoop...
"There are lots of different types of hoops, too. It's because you need different hoops for different things.
"There are hoops of different sizes, weighted hoops, LED hoops, even fire hoops.
"I've probably got about 50 or 60 personal hoops."
Emma's naturally sociable personality has undoubtedly helped hooping become so popular in Bristol.
"I'm a really outgoing person. I like being around people all the time, rather than sitting in a laboratory every day," she says.
"I just like getting people together. It's great for me to have people around.
"I work constantly and it can be quite tiring, but it's something I love and I find it amazing that I get to make a living out of it. The classes don't feel like work, although the admin does!
"We all get on and it's really nice and friendly. They aren't my pupils, they're my mates. I would invite them to my birthday parties."
In addition to her hooping classes, Emma holds workshops and has started a weekly Hoop Jam on Wednesday evenings at the college in Marksbury Road, Bedminster, and a monthly hooping social event at The Oxford in Totterdown on a Friday night.
She says: "We just all get on really well. It isn't just about hooping together, people also get on together socially away from hooping classes.
"They come into classes bringing each other stuff like books and produce from their allotments and do clothes swaps.
"Everyone is just lovely. I realised the other day on Facebook someone was moving house and four people who had replied about helping them were from different hooping classes.
"We also have a community hoop troupe – usually about 20 of us, basically whoever can make it – and we've done St Paul's carnival for the past three years."
Emma went to the University of Nottingham and graduated in 2001 with a BSc in genetics.
She then worked in biomedical sciences in her hometown of Corby, Northants, for four years before coming to Bristol to do a Phd in immunolgy.
"I'm the first doctor in the family, but a nine to five job in a laboratory really wasn't for me.
"I like being around people and talking a lot, so teaching hooping is perfect for me, as I get to go all around the country teaching.
"My mum passed away a few years ago, before I got into hooping, but my dad is very supportive.
"He thinks I'm mental but he loves the fact that I'm his crazy blue-haired daughter who does hooping!"
After she learned to hoop in 2007, Emma started showing her friends how to hoop.
"I started teaching them in my garden. Then my mates brought round their mates for me to teach.
"I decided to start teaching proper classes in Cotham when I was still doing my PhD. I did a few workshops and hen parties, and I began to realise that I could make a living out of my hobby and decided that I should go for it, because I could always go back to research."
"Then I started holding classes in Windmill Hill, and ended up moving there because I got on so well with the people in my classes.
"I was living in Horfield and I was very happy there, but it got to the point where I was spending so much time in Windmill Hill that it was easier to move."
In addition to her classes, Emma has also produced online hooping tutorials that are available on her website.
Was it a surprise to be named best instructor at the Revolvies?
"I was really pleased because it's peer-judged. Most of all I'm pleased that Bristol won best hooping community in both the Revolvies and the Hoopies, which is based in the community with nominations made online throughout the world.
"Bristol is very much a chilled out, relaxed community, and everyone is up for doing different things, so maybe that's why hooping has become so popular here.
"I think Bristol has become a real hub for people to come to. There's a big circus and hoop community because of the Circomedia circus school. There are lots of hoop performers who are unbelievably good."
The next SWHoop will be taking place in November at the Trinity Centre, and will feature a variety of workshops.
"This will be our third year and people are coming from all over the world. There will be about 100 people doing hooping all day and learning tricks like how to cartwheel hoop," adds Emma.
For further information go to hoopingmad.co.uk.
Hooping has become a popular form of exercise, with fans including Incredible Hulk actress Liv Tyler and Michelle Obama, pictured.
Twirling the hoop helps to strengthen the abdominal muscles, and weighted hoops can be used to boost cardio workouts.
"You can just wear leggings and a top – whatever you are comfortable in. You don't have to wear Spandex," says Emma.
"Some people come to classes in their work clothes. The only thing that matters is that you are comfortable.
"It's good for the waist and for the mobility of the spine, and some people say it's good for weight loss. I think it is if you do it regularly and at quite a high intensity to fast music, so you can get a good cardio workout.
"The most important thing for me is that it's about being more comfortable in yourself.
"You stop worrying about what you look like. I can stand in front of people completely sober and dance without even thinking about it when I'm hooping!"