It’s a great way to exercise, but you’ll need real core and upper-body strength to master any tricks.

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WHENEVER I TAKE a circus-arts class, I wonder: If I ran away to join the circus, what kind of performer would I be? Would I fly high on the trapeze, ride a unicycle or walk a tightrope?

After each class, it changes. I swear I will be a trapeze artist … or I will dazzle on aerial silks. (I might not be cut out for unicycle tricks.)

Aerial hoop was no different. Afterward, I was convinced I should learn to perform fantastic tricks and spins on a hoop.

Emerald City Trapeze Arts

emeraldcitytrapeze.com

I joined the beginner hoop class at Emerald City Trapeze Arts in Seattle. I knew it likely would be hard. Anything aerial requires a lot of upper-body strength (AKA pullup strength).

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Our teacher, Meredith, had us warm up our hands, wrists, necks and shoulders, then dived into conditioning. She wants students to practice maintaining technique even when tired.

The conditioning included core and shoulder work, and some hamstring strengthening while hanging from the hoop. Naturally, we did pullups on the hoop, except these were harder. We pulled our knees to our chest, and then attempted a pullup. When I tried, my elbows bent — and that was it. Meredith called them “spirit” pullups.

Our first trick was a front balance. There were experienced people in the class who practiced on a hoop higher off the ground; newbies started with a lower hoop. We pushed ourselves from a padded mat forward onto the hoop, then folded in half at the hips to hang down.

I’ve done similar balances before, but the hoop digs right into your hip bones when you do this trick. Meredith reminded us to zip up our cores and “squeeze the cheese,” or our butt muscles. It’s tempting to let your legs fall back if you lose your balance. In hoop, however, it’s better to flop and fold forward.

This trick takes intense core strength, and I wasn’t eager to do the front balance again.

Next, Meredith showed us the Mermaid, which requires minimal effort with big effect. We were down.

I swung my legs up to sit up on the hoop, let my hips drop behind the hoop with my knees hooked, straightened my legs, released a hand and twisted away. While it wasn’t hard, it was slightly confusing figuring out how to twist. And, like many positions on the hoop, it was wildly uncomfortable. But it looked pretty! I smiled. I was ready for the spotlight.

We also learned Man on the Moon, sitting sideways on the hoop, pressing our feet against the inside of the ring for balance and leaning back. If it hadn’t been for the hoop pressing into my tailbone, it might have been comfortable.

We moved on to the Amazon, dropping out of Man on the Moon to hang from the hoop, arms braced and shoulders pressed into the ring. Once your legs hang down, you bend your knees, throw your head back and point your toes. I felt elegant and uncomfortable.

Lastly, we learned to spin in the Amazon position. This was fun. Once positioned on the hoop, we lifted our feet, set them out wide, then used our feet to spin. It was the perfect circus combination of pretty and fun.

The 90-minute class went so fast, I wanted to practice — i.e., keep spinning — after it ended. Meredith had colorful descriptions of how to do poses that kept me, shall we say, fully engaged.

I have one more trick to learn before I’m ready for the stage — how to not fall over after a spin. I’m working on it.