TOWNSEND -- Hula-hooping is no longer just for the playground. That is what Jessica Thaxter, Townsend native and certified hula-hooping instructor, hopes to instill in her adult pupils.
"It's so much fun with grownups, especially with women, because it's very liberating. I think we spend our whole childhood being told to grow up, and then we turn into adults and we think, 'Oh man.' Hula hooping is very catchy because of that. For grownups, it really pulls out that fun energy. You sort of forget how to do it."
Luckily for Townsend adults, Thaxter is ready to remind them of the pleasure of playtime through a hula-hooping course being offered through Townsend Recreation starting in January. A longtime friend of Townsend Recreation Director Emy Hoff, Thaxter said she was thrilled to be able to offer the residents of her hometown the opportunity to experience the joys of hooping.
"Whether they take to it or not, they have so much fun trying," said Thaxter. That being said, she added, "I have never not been able to teach someone to hula hoop."
In addition to being great for the health of a youthful spirit, hula hooping has incredible cardio-vascular benefits as well, said Thaxter.
"It's some of the best cardio you could possibly do with your body," said Thaxter. "Fifteen minutes of hula-hooping is the same as running a mile. You burn just as many calories. And because you're playing and having fun, you sort of forget (you're exercising)."
And, she said, the workout is extremely low-impact. Thaxter, who had been a dancer all of her life, had sustained injuries in a car accident as a teenager. Since then, she has suffered from severe arthritis. The condition forced her to give up dancing.
"But I can hula hoop like crazy because you don't really push those buttons because it's so low-impact," she said.
Thaxter began hooping six years ago and became a certified hooping and Poi instructor through Circles of Joy Hooping and Poi. She had since begun her own hooping company called Circus in the Stars.
"It's really amazing; it changed my life," she said.
Aside from the cardio, the routine also strengthens core muscles and improves coordination. In the first 10 minutes of her class, Thaxter encourages her pupils to hula hoop as fast as they can; even if the hoop continuously falls, you're still getting the exercise through bending for the hoop and starting again.
And, said Thaxter, although she doesn't like to focus her instruction on it, "Grownups like it because it can be very sexy."
Aside from waist hula-hooping, Thaxter instructs on other hooping skills, what she calls "circus art."
"Part of hooping dancing is considered object manipulation. You can create illusions with shapes of all sizes," she said. "When you're successful with it, you feel like you're doing great, amazing things, but it's really easy when you learn how to do it."
The most common reason for being unsuccessful, said Thaxter, is that people tend to use the wrong kinds of hula hoops. First, the hoops that are sold at toy stores are made for children, and are generally too small for adults. It's a common misconception, she said, that the smaller the hoop, the easier it is to use. When it's standing up, a hula hoop should reach the center of the user's chest.
"The bigger the hula hoop, the longer it takes to make the rotation. To be successful with a smaller hoop, you would have to have very sharp, quick movements," said Thaxter.
Also, plastic hoops are more difficult to use because of a lack of friction. Thaxter makes her own hoops that she used during instruction; she wraps the hoops in a special tape.
"You're never going to be successful if you use the wrong tools," said Thaxter.
To create better friction, it is best to hoop in natural fabrics like cotton.
In addition to her hooping company, Thaxter is also a paraprofessional at Varnum Brook Elementary School and is getting her degree to become a teacher. She will also be offering a hooping class for children.
"When I'm outside with kids at recess, they love it and get so excited about it. All these kids wanted to learn more, so I'm excited that they'll have opportunity to learn more," she said.
On the whole, the feedback for Thaxter's classes has always been positive, she said.
"They leave feeling like they've reconnected with their childlike side. People get a chance to forget about being a grownup for an hour. They have a good time, they laugh. It's very light-hearted," she said. "It's really amazing to see the change in people when they fall in love with it."