Teri Walter never considered herself to be the athletic type, but now in her 30s she's found her sport. Hula hooping, or more specifically hoop dance, is her favorite thing to do on Thursdays about an hour before sunset on Siesta Key Beach.
Hoop dance centers on a grown-up version of the popular kids' toy. Walter has been taking the seaside hoop dance class, offered by hoop instructor Bonnie Brown on Thursdays, since September.
"The dance is awesome," said Walter. "It feels good to play and teach my body something new.
"It is great exercise -- it's definitely made my core stronger and made my back stronger," she said.
Hoop dance is part exercise, part art form and part moving meditation. Twirling the hoop around the waist is just a small part of it.
In hoop classes, students start out by learning to swirl the hoop slowly overhead and around their shoulders. With practice, they'll eventually be able to do flowing, improvised moves that involve the whole body.
Brown teaches hoop dance classes at Sarasota yoga studios and on the beach. On Tuesday evenings, she encourages hoopers to come to Siesta Key Beach just to play in a free-spirited hoop jam.
Four years ago, Brown moved to Sarasota from Chapel Hill, N.C., where hula hooping is a popular pursuit that attracts a large community. Disappointed to find no hula action in the Sarasota area, Brown has slowly been building interest through her classes.
Hula hooping for adults started growing in popularity more than a decade ago and on YouTube there are dozens of hoop workouts, dance videos, demos and how-to's posted by hoopers from around the world.
Brown's dream is to inspire more people to take up hooping in Sarasota. Anywhere from two to 40 people have come out on Tuesdays for the Siesta Key Beach hoop jams, she said.
Hoop dance is not only fun but it also builds body awareness, something many people don't have, said Brown.
Most are accustomed to being aware of their environment through what they see and how they use their hands, she said.
Hooping gets the whole body involved, a practice that can carry over into everyday life.
"I want people to feel comfortable in their bodies. We're physical beings and our bodies were made to move," said Brown.
Practically anyone can hula-hoop -- if they have the right size hoop. The child-size hoops sold at toy stores won't cut it.
"If anyone says 'I tried that and I can't do it' it's probably because they picked up a small hoop," said Brown.
Adult-sized hoops are made of sturdier plastic and can be three or four feet in diameter. In fitness classes, they tend to be heavier, weighing three to eight pounds, than the hoops used for dancing.
The larger hoops are easier to use because their size and weight makes them move more slowly when orbiting around the body.
For beginners, this gives them more time to think about the movement and keep the hoop from falling, said Brown.
"Small children's hoops move quickly and they aren't going to be able to keep up with them," she said.
Keeley Kennahan, a 25-year-old hooper who takes Brown's classes, said she likes hooping because it can be meditative.
"It helps to find balance and meditation through movement," said Kennahan, who has been taking hoop classes for nine months.
Bonus: Her arms are shaping up and she's more fit.
"I definitely feel like I am losing weight," she said.
To learn more about hooping for exercise and dance, visit www.hooping.org.
For information about Brown's hoop-dance classes, visit www.outwardspiral.net.
Susan Hemmingway, Herald health correspondent, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.