DVD Review: The Hooping Life (2014)

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“A circle’s round/It has no end/That’s how long I want to be your friend,” the lyrics to an old Girl Scout Song our troop performed incessantly throughout my childhood promised.

Technically, of course, we were celebrating the merits of making new friends while keeping the old ones for the rest of our life.

Yet given the way we likened this practice to a perfect circle (which calls to mind another youthful activity), we might just as well have been pledging our loyalty to what has become a childhood tradition via the remarkably simple, battery-free beacon of self-expression and confidence-boosting independence known as the hula-hoop.

As awkward and powerless as you often feel as a child – much like learning how to ride a bike and knowing that it was dependent upon your own movements – there was just something unspeakably powerful about the freedom you felt when you found yourself caught up in the rhythm of a circular hoop that you’d propelled entirely by yourself.

What began as small bamboo branches ingeniously transformed into makeshift hoops by Australian Aboriginal children turned into a mass-produced American plastic toy in the 1950s, resulting in an all-out brand war which altogether sold more than one hundred million hula-hoops around the world.

Needless to say, when you combined those numbers with the controversy of just what singers meant when they described a “whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on” (in the wake of rock ‘n roll), it wasn’t long before other countries weighed in on the craze as well as the cultural output of the United States in general.

Banned as an aphrodisiac in Japan (perhaps not at all coincidentally because the hoop’s seductive hip-swinging rhythm enabled everyone to swivel like Elvis Presley), while China declared the toy a health hazard, the Soviet Union took an altogether different approach by dubbing the hula-hoop a primary example of the emptiness of the American consumerist culture at the height of the Cold War.

Yet regardless of how others perceived it, the endorphin-releasing joy of hula-hooping brought out the playful side in all who embraced it. And while the popularity of the item most considered a toy wavered over the following decades of innovations in technology and the rise of video games (which usurped the market in the ‘80s and '90s), since the year 2000, there’s been a resurgence of interest in that simple pastime.

Kicking off a new hooping revolution, people from all continents and countries began reaching out for the childhood friend they’d either left behind or had yet to meet.

Whether the reason for popularity is due to the cradle-rocking rhythm as a form of meditation to ease depression, anger or stress or the way it instantly transports you to a blissfully carefree –spontaneous backyard dance party – up-past-your-bedtime youthful mentality is anyone’s guess.

But all speculation aside, for the individuals featured in documentarian Amy Goldstein’s fascinating feature, nothing else comes close to the euphoria they derive from The Hooping Life.

Introducing us to a wide range of diverse hoopers connected by their passion in life, Goldstein does an excellent job of ensuring we’re able to keep track of the interconnected universe of characters from all walks of life, while also taking the time to establish each individual’s back-story with a nicely edited introduction from which rest of the work naturally evolves.

After a brief overview of the hoop's history (which is expanded on in the DVD bonus features), Goldstein explores the roots of its comeback by ultimately zeroing in on those who first picked up a hoop at a String Cheese Incident concert.

It’s here where we encounter the unofficial goddess of the hooping movement in the form of the free-spirited Anah who spent a year of her life figuring out how to make her own perfect hoop and continues to inspire those in the ever-expanding community to this day.

Yet far from just focusing on hooping as performance art (or a form of rhythmic street gymnastics), Goldstein’s film is as entertaining as it is emotionally powerful. Shortly into the work we meet inspiring interviewees who found solace and strength in the art form to heal from a horrific rape, bounce back from suicidal depression, avoid gang violence and more.

Filled with empathy and humanism, Life does a stellar job of illustrating the way that this perfect circle gives people a chance to express themselves when words cannot. Beautifully lensed, The Hooping Life is as passionate about its subjects and the overall subject of the piece as the subjects are themselves.

Recently released on DVD and VOD, Goldstein’s infectiously energetic yet heartfelt work boasts multiples bonus features including how-to-hooping tutorials and a step-by-step video guide to making your very own pro-quality hoop (complete with insider tips on taping, weight and size modifications depending on experience level).

Sure to bring back childhood memories as well as inspire new hoopers to give it a whirl, this brisk 70-minute documentary will remind you – through some awe-inspiring performances– why our friendship with this perfect circle has not only come full circle but will likewise never end.

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