This article was published 21/4/2017 (853 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In August 2009, Karrie Blackburn was camping in British Columbia’s Kentucky Alleyne Provincial Park with a number of her friends.
On the women’s second night there, while they were lounging around the barbecue pit after supper, one of them headed into her tent to retrieve a set of hula hoops, which she’d brought along for fun.
"She started showing us all these super-cool, amazing moves she could do, and me, being all arrogant, stood up and announced, ‘I can do that, too,’" says Blackburn, seated in a coffee shop on Broadway. "Little did I know I wouldn’t even be able to keep it spinning around my waist for 10 seconds."
At the time, Blackburn weighed 220 pounds. She had tried hitting a gym to lose weight, she says, but because she felt "awkward and out of place," she shelved that idea after five or six visits. The moment she heard her campmate mention 10 minutes of "hooping" burns the same amount of calories as a brisk, 60-minute walk, she thought that was something she could do in the privacy of her apartment to shed a few pounds.
She admits the first few times she gave it a go, most of her exercise came from bending over and picking up her hoop, which she bought at Toys "R" Us, after dropping it on her living-room floor. She eventually got things figured out, and when she stepped on the scale two weeks later, she was elated to discover she had lost 10 pounds.
On May 4 and 5, Blackburn, who now weighs "a very comfortable" 153 pounds, will co-host Earth to Sky: A Hoop Intensive at the North Centennial Recreation & Leisure Centre, at 90 Sinclair St. During the two-day get-together, Blackburn, a certified Hoop Love coach and the founder of Kurrent Motion, a full-scale hula hoop business, will teach interested parties a variety of manoeuvres one wouldn’t have thought possible when Richard Knerr and Arthur Melin invented the modern-day hula hoop in 1958.
"Waist-hooping is fun, don’t get me wrong, but after 10 minutes or so it does get a little boring," says Blackburn, who will be conducting workshops alongside an instructor from Toronto-based Hoop You. "For that reason, we’ll be focusing more on ground and footwork, as well as tosses and twin-hooping. This is aimed at people who can already spin a hoop around their waist, but want to learn moves that are a bit more difficult and circus-like."
In October 2009, by which time she was working out with her hula hoop on a daily basis, Blackburn began studying YouTube videos that demonstrated hula hoop artists performing a variety of stunts - skipping, juggling… even a trick known as a wedgie, which, just like it sounds, involves manipulating a hoop using one’s inner thigh and groin area.
"That’s when I began to explore the flow and dance side of things," she says. "Let’s face it; I can’t dance worth beans but before long it was a case of give me a hula hoop, stand back and see what I can do."
Blackburn spent a good chunk of 2012 living and working in Ireland. During her time there, she attended an international hula hoop convention in Dublin that drew participants from all four corners of the globe. Two years later, while she was residing in New Zealand, she started thinking of ways she could make hooping her full-time career. (Truth be told, that was the second time in her life that thought entered her head; Blackburn, who grew up in Morden, distinctly remembers goofing around with a hula hoop in her driveway when she was eight years old and one day, after chucking it high into the air and catching it, thinking, "Wow, I am so good at this. I should be a professional.")
"I was staying in Palmerston North, which is about two hours from Wellington on the north island. I had a 9-to-5 job as a barista but in my spare time, I was teaching hula hooping in a rented gym," she says. "I had 160 students and things were going really good, so when it was time to return to Canada, I was convinced hooping wasn’t only what I wanted to do, it was what I had to do."
Blackburn founded Kurrent Motion — "Kurrent with a K because I’m Karrie with a K" — in April 2015. At first she was content running classes for 10 to 15 students out of venues such as the Broadway Neighborhood Centre. After noticing more and more people showing up to her 60-minute sessions — she teaches intro and intermediate classes — with the wrong-sized apparatus, however, she branched out into the production side of things, too.
"As adults, we wouldn’t wear kids’ shoes, so why would we use a kid’s hoop?" she states matter-of-factly. "So what I do is make four sizes of hoops for adults and four sizes of hoops for kids. I use irrigation tubing that I cut and decorate with vinyl tape and satin ribbon. It’s a bit like knitting; I’ll sit in my chair watching Netflix, making my hoops."
Blackburn is a living, breathing testimonial for the benefits of hooping. Besides the obvious boost to her own well-being, hooping has also taken her around the world; in April 2014 she performed at the Sacred Circularities Hoop Retreat in Bali and a year later, she took the stage in Los Angeles during the Hoopurbia Hoop Festival. But instead of dwelling on her own accomplishments, Blackburn prefers to discuss what hooping did for one of her students.
"She was suffering from depression and (hooping) really helped her get out of that funk," Blackburn says. "It gave her a community of people she could spend time with in a happy, healthy environment. As it turned out, her daughter got into hooping around the same time – previous to that they had gone through a falling out period — but through hooping, they were able to rekindle their relationship, so all in all it really turned her life around.
"Hooping definitely has the ability to assist people suffering from a variety of maladies, including anxiety and depression. It’s been proven tossing a hoop around your abdomen releases serotonin — that happy chemical we’ve all read about — and makes you feel good. It helps with digestion... I could go on and on."
This summer, Blackburn will be selling her wares as well as showing off a few tricks at the Downtown Farmers’ Market, the Wolseley Farmers Market, Pride Winnipeg and the Morden Corn & Apple Festival. Her calendar is also being filled up with bookings at day-care workshops and kids’ camps, she says.
She shakes her head when asked what path her life might have taken if she had turned down the invitation to go camping eight years ago, or if her friend hadn’t bothered to pack her hula hoops for the trip.
"I can’t even guess but it is fascinating, don’t you think, how what seemed like an insignificant moment at the time – me hula hooping around a campfire – could affect everything else so much. The only thing I wish I’d done was write down the precise date. It’s common in the hooping community for people to have a hoop anniversary, which celebrates the first time they picked up a hoop in earnest. I know mine is sometime in mid-August, but one day I definitely need to go back through Facebook and pin it down, exactly."
For more information on Blackburn’s business, go to www.kurrentmotionhoops.com.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.