The Making of A Hula Hoop Champion

Posted on October 1, 2013



Life in the Boomer Lane’s Uncle Sid, an amateur photographer, left behind thousands of slides, photos, and dozens of old movie reels when he went to the great photography convention in the sky. Uncle Sid was not a creative type. His garden sprouted way more signs than anything else. Each flower, bush, vegetable, and herb was identified in large black letters on a white card. It was as if the paper had stronger roots than the plants.

Uncle Sid’s penchant for labeling didn’t stop with his garden. LBL, herself, had, over the years, been subjected to having to hold large signs with the date and occasion written on them, whenever Sid took a photo. In addition to holding signs, each pose had to be done over and over, until Sid got the exact one he wanted. Each time she held a sign up, she was reminded of scenes from kidnapping films, in which the abducted holds up a newspaper to prove the photo is a recent one.

Sid’s wife Gert was Sid’s favorite subject. There were, over the years, thousands of photos of Gert standing face forward, sideways, and from behind. The background was of minor consequence to Sid. Gert in a bathing suit was more important than the Atlantic Ocean. Gert in an overcoat was more important than Cape Cod.

Gert and Sid were childless, and so LBL had to clean out their house, after Sid had long passed and Gert went into assisted living. Because Gert and Sid were borderline hoarders, they had amassed, among other things, the world’s largest collection of free items given out by the Atlantic City casinos. LBL, after having spent days wading through the thousands of items squirreled away in every nook and cranny of the tiny house, had little energy left to deal with the dozens of cartons containing film, slides, photos, and old camera parts. She chose one film reel that was labeled “1958: Japanese Gardens and Renee–hula hoop.” She let the rest go. Even then, it took several years before she took it to have it converted into a DVD.

The majority of the tape was actually taken on a day trip her aunt and uncle made to the Japanese Gardens in Philadelphia. The hula hoop segment was only about two minutes long, at the end of endless focusing on Gert as she walked the gardens. The part that contained n a ten-year-old LBL showed her practicing the hula hoop outside, on a playing field. LBL was practicing her champion moves, not only spinning the hoop but bringing it to different parts of her body and back to her waist again. It wasn’t all that interesting, but it was riveting.

Her reaction surprised even her. It wasn’t “Oh how cute.” It was “I existed.” LBL doesn’t lack for photos of herself throughout the years. Most of them are compliments of Sid. Some, incredibly enough, don’t even contain signs with the date and occasion on them. So it’s not like the photos weren’t proof of LBL’s existence. But the video showed more than her existence. It captured her personality.

Taken in the era that preceded jeans as the national uniform and any kind of pants as permissible attire for girls in school, LBL was wearing what appeared to be a heavy wool straight skirt (as they were called) and a pair of clashing tights. It showed LBL’s frustration with the hoop continually sliding down over her skirt, and then getting caught as she tried to bring the hoop up again. (Hint to those of you who want to learn to spin a hoop: Wear jeans or a bathing suit or be naked. Do not a skirt.). She soon got the hang of spinning in a straight skirt, just as women before her got the hang of swimming, riding horses, and playing tennis in dresses. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

As the seconds of the video ran by, LBL saw this younger version of herself exhibit frustration (the inability to raise the hoop without it getting caught in the skirt), embarrassment (the practice session took place on a playing field, on which other kids were close by), determination (trying over and over, with the stupid skirt in the way), and satisfaction (until she figured out a way to make the hoop do what she wanted it to do, in spite of the skirt).

It was this sequence of emotions that had the adult LBL react as she did: This was her. She was real. These emotions are what she lives with to this day. The high expectation when beginning, the frustration and stomping of her foot (now done symbolically) when things didn’t turn out as she had planned, and the eventual smug look when they did. She knew that, had the hoop still refused to do what she wanted after a certain interval of time, she would have stopped practicing. Her mantra was: If you can’t be successful at something, don’t continue trying. She wouldn’t have taken her hula hoop and gone home. She would have left the hoop lying on the field.

Luckily for posterity, LBL can now call herself a former hula hoop champion. And, thanks to Uncle Sid, she has both the proof of her intention and of her complete lack of any fashion sense.