KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 24 — Most of us tend to think of hula hoops as just child’s play. But in the case of Australia-born Michelle Tan (also known as Mishie Hoops) who runs The Hula Hoop Institute, it has opened up a world of opportunities to travel and meet people.
Michelle has close ties with Malaysia as her parents are from here; she moved to Klang when she was 10 years old, before returning to Australia to study at the age of 16.
The 35-year-old now spends her time between Bali and Kuala Lumpur.
Playing with hoops is no new fad, as it can be traced back to ancient Egypt when they were fashioned from dried vines.
In the book Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers, people from ancient Roman times exercised with hoops made from wood or bamboo.
Aside from recreational games, hoops have also been incorporated into dance routines since the 1920s; there is also the Native Americans’ rainbow dance.
It became a permanent fixture at the Olympic Games since 1936, when it was incorporated into the rhythmic gymnastics routine.
The word “hula” is believed to have been paired with hoops after missionaries or British sailors visited the Hawaiian Islands and discovered that the hula dance movements are similar to balancing and twirling a hoop around the waist.
In the late 1950s, the hula hoop became THE toy for every little girl. Strangely enough, the craze actually kicked off when a Sydney teacher taught her physical education students how to swing and sway a bamboo hoop for exercise.
Companies started to produce lightweight bamboo hoops that sold out quickly. The department store Coles approached Toltoys, an Australian toymaker, to see if they could mass produce the hoops, which they did using a new light and flexible material known as polyethylene.
It was bought over by Californian Wham-O who successfully marketed the hoops as toys; 25 million hoops were sold in less than four months! The craze swept throughout the world and saw hula hoops being inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999.
Over the last decade, hula hoops have become a popular fitness activity and dance craze, which is how Michelle, at a very late age of 29, discovered it.
She tells us, “My mother constantly reminds me with a laugh that I didn’t find my co-ordination until my 20s!” In 2012, when she was working as a risk manager in Melbourne, she started circus style hula hooping as a form of exercise.
Later, she enrolled in a hula dance class. Hooked on the new dance style, she just couldn’t stop twirling away! “I went from one class a week to three and spent every spare moment I had practising and learning more hoop tricks.” It all came to her naturally despite not having any athletic or dance background.
In 2013, Michelle took a leap of faith and moved to Ubud, Bali. Teaching hooping to others only started after her friends requested private classes.
She had organised a series of classes at a friend’s villa and found out she really enjoyed sharing her knowledge with others. She adds, “I found a lot of joy in teaching adults to express themselves through movement and connect with their inner child.”
As word got around, Michelle was invited to teach at yoga retreats and festivals. Occasionally, she’ll even perform at events.
With all the interest in hula hoops, Michelle saw a business opportunity. “I realised quickly that I could combine my passion for hooping, my business degree and 10-year career and experience working at retreats to create a business I would love and The Hula Hoop Institute was born.”
Her venture offers hoop dance classes that incorporate fun, fitness, movement and dance. These classes are mainly targeting adults but in the future, Michelle hopes to offer children’s workshops too.
As they don’t have their own studio, it gives Michelle a chance to reach out to a variety of gyms and dance studios to offer classes. “There are hundreds and thousands of hoop dance instructors around the world, however at this point, I am the only instructor based in Kuala Lumpur at the moment,” said Michelle.
She also works with many instructors and performers from the US, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Europe and South Africa to create offerings in Asia.
Since they started in 2014, Michelle has organised hula hoop retreats known as The Hoop Dream in Bali and Langkawi. “It’s where we bring some of the world’s best hula hoop instructors to Asia to teach a variety of styles of hula hooping.”
These gatherings also promote socialising among the hoopers. The Hoop Dream Langkawi was held in April this year, where they hosted around 80 hula hoopers from 18 different countries. “It was a very proud moment for me to be introducing people to Malaysia’s beauty and culture,” she said.
In the future, she hopes to organise hula hoop retreats in Sri Lanka, Thailand and The Philippines. Next April, there is set to be a second edition of The Hoop Dream in Langkawi. Expect to be taught by teachers such as Babz Robinson, Morgan Jenkins and Alexis Collier.
It’s not easy to master everything in hooping. As Michelle explains, the number of hula hoop tricks in this world is infinite. She adds, “New movements, tricks and shapes are being created daily around the world and I can safely say that not a single person knows them all.”
For her, the amazing thing about hula hooping is that the participants and teachers are constantly learning, moving and creating.
For Michelle, her hooping passion has opened doors to the world. “I have hula hooped in four continents: in a castle in Gottingen, an old church in Bristol, a museum in Berlin, a cruise ship between Singapore and Malaysia, a glass house in Turkey, parks in Canada, with beat boxers in Bali, hip hop artists in Melbourne and Guinness Book record holders in London. I can go to almost any city in the world and find people to meet and hula hoop with.”
Spreading the word on hula hooping is also incredibly rewarding for her too as she has even helped others to travel and experience what the world has to offer. “Finding out that people have applied for their first passport to travel across the world to hula hoop with me has blown my mind,” she said.
The Hula Hoop Institute