This summer’s 60-minute rooftop hula-hooping classes at London’s Berkeley hotel were an idea born on the dusty Nevada plains of Black Rock City, during the Burning Man festival, when Anna Byrne, then 22, got into hooping. Back in Edinburgh, she bought a child’s hoop but couldn’t keep it spinning, so she snapped it open and filled it with mud to add weight. “It was broken and I was useless, but I took it home, all taped up, and started to practise,” she says.
In 2013, Byrne and her personal trainer husband Rowan launched HulaFit, a high-intensity hula class that aims to target core muscles for a “supreme abdominal workout” and claims to be able to burn up to 600 calories in an hour-long session, using 1.4kg weighted hoops. This 2015 pop-up brings the idea to a new audience every Wednesday lunchtime until October 28, and the £65 class price includes a poolside lunch, as well as use of the pool and a hoop to take home.
In the luxurious rooftop surrounds of the London hotel, up to four budding hula artists will gather for a class, each positioned in one of the arches around the pool. When Byrne presses play on the iPod, everyone will begin to swing.
I went along to one of the introductory classes and had a whale of a time. First we mastered the most simple of manoeuvres, basic waist hooping. I learnt that left-handers like me tend to swing to the right – and vice versa. I tried it this way and that, hands above my head, first feet apart and then feet together (harder). My moment came when I managed to keep the momentum going: in a limbo-like position, legs bent, arched back and thrusting up to London’s open sky to the tune of The Knack’s My Sharona.
Classes then proceed from simple waist curls to pirouettes, which involve sway walking, samba style, on the spot while turning around. The speed of hooping is increased by thrusting more, says Byrne – it’s harder to hoop more slowly.
But it isn’t all hula based: hooping is interjected with some high-intensity bootcamp moves such as rapid burpees, jumping and squatting (exhausting).
In my opinion, the hooping pièce de résistance is “the vortex”, turning in a circle while using the hands to spin the hoop up, over the head and back down the other way. But the reverse limbo, the “booty bump”, is the real party pleaser. (“The Miley” Byrne calls it.)
After the class comes to a close, there’s an afterparty in the pool, followed by lunch and drinks back at the spa. Expectcore muscles and arms to seriously ache, even if you do a lot of yoga. It’s a reminder how important it is to mix up workouts and to try new classes regularly to work a new set of muscles. Still, it’ll be one of the most fun gym classes you’re likely to experience.