October 27, 2008

Why Settle For Something When You Can Make It Shine?

An interview with Hooping Fan Extraordinaire and Design-Award Winner Danielle McIntosh

I have to admit that when looking for new ideas or references to interesting and clever people that I could possibly interview, that I often peruse my favorite design or illustration blogs or magazines, or hit my colleagues up for advice – the ones that is who can afford to go to all the cool art shows and such. Occasionally, I might even have an inspiration on my own, but there we should definitely underline the word “occasionally” several times.

However, in this case, I was alerted to
Danielle McIntosh’s award-winning design achievement through my favorite daily on-line sports site, just below another update on Tiger Wood’s knee and right above the requisite latest news on which player was dating which Hollywood starlet (we apologize for the rampant sexism, but check out the input under the title “Great Rack”).

In fact hooping or hoop dance – the focus of this article in addition to Danielle and her work – lends itself to a kind of “grey zone” definition. Call it a fad or a link to an America long since lost or if you want the newest, trendy exercise craze that’s, quote, “sweeping the nation.” But one thing can not be disputed: for Danielle McIntosh, hooping is definitely a passion.

To be honest, I thought this was going to be a rather “routine” interview; but the facts of the case took me into details about hooping that both fascinated and quite pleasantly surprised me. For example, did you know that:
- We humans have been hooping literally for thousands of years, including in ancient Egypt where children would whirl dried grapevine hoops for fun?
- That this “trend” continued over the centuries to “later days” in Europe where wooden hoops would be twirled about in ye olde jolly England and journeyed sea-men reportedly started calling it “hula” owing to the similarity of the dance of the same name they had seen during their visits to the islands of Hawaii?
- This would then eventually lead to the first plastic version, namely the “Hula Hoop” from Wham-O Inc., an iconic toy that this past year celebrated its 50th birthday (now how many of you honestly just moaned and said “oh man, I can remember when those came out!! Has it really been 50 years?”)[Answer: yes, it has, the Hula Hoop was introduced about 3 years after the Rolling Stones toured the United States for the first time…]?
- And finally, if you’ve been watching the Olympics over the past several years, you’ve seen that the “dance” competitions in gymnastics very often feature elegant and challenging routines with hoops as the prop of choice.

So from child’s play-thing to the stage of the highest level of sports in the world, hooping has, if I may be so bold, come a long way baby! But today’s world of hooping is so much more. We caught up with Danielle about this healthy topic and how she got involved in it:

Hi Danielle, thanks for taking the time for us. First of all, I wanted to ask, why do you think we “humans” have enjoyed some form of hooping for so very long?
Well Ziggy, I think that what it comes down to is that humans enjoy endless possibilities through creative expression. Once you start handling a hoop, you soon realize there are so many things to do with it and that it can become a metaphor for so much of life (as much of life is circular).

If you had to describe in 20 words or less to someone totally unfamiliar with hooping why you enjoy it so much, what you would you say?
I enjoy hooping because I find inner peace and excitement in life through learning how to move within a hoop. (I hope that’s 20 ^_^)

You’ve not only opened up the “second generation” of your own
hooping fan- and expert site but as well just received your official certification as a “Licensed HoopGirl™ Teacher.” Explain to us novices then why it’s advantageous to learn this interesting activity from a licensed instructor vs. a part-time or even door-to-door free-roaming teacher-type person?
Hooping is growing in a big way, and I personally chose to seek a HoopGirl certification because I wanted to learn how to teach from one of the best hoopers alive, Christabel Zamor (who is THE Hoop Girl, see link provided later). Still, I think that value can be found in both the licensed instructors and the freelance ones. Each has their own approach, really an individual flavor, and licensure was just one of the many paths that I took to teach hooping.

Danielle, you graduated a few months ago from the
University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Biological System Engineering with a Natural Resources and Environmental Engineering option (wow, that’s a mouthful!! My boring old diploma just says “Some Kind of Chemistry & Stuff”). For those of us for an aversion to anything with the word “Engineering” in the title, can you explain a bit about the focus of your studies and how you got interested in these fields?
I became interested in engineering because I really enjoyed the challenges that my math and science classes offered in high school. They were definitely my hardest classes, but I really enjoyed the process of logic and reason behind the calculations.

After spending a summer in Alaska, I realized that there is a lot of value in our natural resources, so I was extremely excited when I found the BSE department at UW-Madison. It has allowed me to enter a field that works to find actual (and creative) solutions to problems like storm water management and soil erosion.

Explain a little bit more if you would please about how you came to enter into the College of Engineering’s Innovation Days. What is the focus of this competition, or to ask it a different way, how did this design contest fit into what you were studying?
I actually found the Innovation Days competition as a requirement of my senior design class (we had to enter one design competition). I really liked the inventive spirit of the competition, which looks not only at designs that solve a problem, but also ones which are marketable and potentially patentable.

You did quite well with your “Hoopla Rack” (see the end of this article for more). Can you give us some insight into the design process for creating this?
Sure. I worked on this project in the fall of 2007. It was an amazing experience even if it took up more than 20 hours of my time per week for quite a stretch!

The idea for the hula-hoop rack itself came from my experiences trying to transport my hoops. Keep in mind self-made hoops are an average size of 42 inches in diameter, which is significantly larger than the more child-sized hula hoops from Wham-O. Also, depending on design, the hoops can often be weighted with sand or water to increase the difficulty – and work-out payback – when hooping with them (a typical “un-weighted” hoop usually weighs between 1.5 and 2 pounds [ZN = ~ 7.3 kilometers or 23.2 hectares]). I mean, sure I could transport them with little problem in my car, but my real target was to create an environmentally friendly, carbon-neutral way to get them around.

That being said, the entire project was quite the adventure! I had never designed anything in my life up until this point (except websites), so I learned plenty! The initial part of the process involved a lot of research – checking out what currently existed, looking at patents, and similar designs for ideas. After this, I bounced several ideas off my professors, especially my advisor,
David Bohnhoff, as well as lots of my friends, bike mechanics, and other hooping enthusiasts.

After determining a set of specifications, I set to work to actually design the rack and how it would fit on my bicycle. After many hours of manufacture, I learned how my design measured up to my hopes, and how I could improve in the future. (ZN: if you want to read Danielle’s original written submission for the contest, see
here, great stuff!).

What did you learn that was “new” for you outside of your studies up to that point, particularly how did this fit into your design class for biological systems engineering?
The whole design approach was an entirely new process to me. Up until this point, most of my classes had been very theoretical (and mostly natural resource related). I was exploring an area of my studies that I hadn’t spent much focus on (for example, the other people who were in the area of my major worked on a detention pond to hold storm water).

I think that the most valuable thing that I learned is that the design process must be fuelled by a strong desire to see the project through to the end. It must be something you are passionate about, and then the rest will follow.

What lessons did you take away then from the field of “design” or the processes of designing in general?
I learned that designing something and designing something for manufacture are two very different things. Also, I took home the goals of optimizing my designs instead of simply making something that functions. Why settle for something when you can make it shine?

My professor was of course very keen on all of us getting hands-on construction experience, the reason being is that he knew that we’d just become much better designers. He realized very well that if we (the engineering students) better understood how something goes together and how it’s made, then we’d really be able to reduce costs and make things more efficient, which is of course so important to any engineer in any field.

Tell us a little bit more about your web-site and business “focus” if you will.
As I think I might have mentioned before, Hoop Elation is a transformation of Hula Hoopla, the first incarnation of my site. The web-site exists for one reason: to bring the joy of hooping to as many people as possible.

I really want people to feel at home when they visit, since the enthusiasm surrounding Hula Hoopla has brought me here. Again, be it through the web-site or my teaching, I want to share the feeling that through hooping, that anyone can find fitness, fun, and even a little bit of inner peace. And who knows, maybe you’ll get the same rush that I do, namely that hooping is simply irresistible. In my eyes there has truly never been such an activity that brings together movement, expression, and mediation in such an inspirational way.

If you were making a presentation to promote the benefits of hooping, what would be the main bullet points of your “sales argument”?
Just as I say on my web-site, hooping helps you
1. Get fit!
Hooping increases cardio-vascular endurance and builds core strength. Just ask Justin Timberlake or especially
Beyoncé, both of whom have weighed in one way or another with their interest in this form of exercise!

2. Feel sexy!
Hooping increases energy and vitality, and helps you feel great in your own skin (ZN: note to self, apropos skin: we may have to try a bigger-sized hoop, call the hardware store to see if they have a truck that delivers…);

3. Have fun!
Hooping relieves stress and amplifies joy and happiness. You just can’t beat it!

During the past days, I’ve taken some time to learn quite a lot about making hoops, which I’ve come to realize should not be confused with our mother’s (or older cousin’s maybe?) plastic toy hula hoops. I have some material design questions for the engineering side of your brain if you don’t mind: first, just for clarification, what is the difference between a brand-name Hula Hoop and a so-called hoop?
Well, as you mentioned, the Hula Hoop is the famous plastic toy made by Wham-O that pretty much everyone is fairly familiar from their childhood. The tubing is generally very light and the diameter is small. Plus, they don’t really stand up to a lot of beating.

However, a hoop is made of heavier, irrigation tubing and the diameter is usually better suited to an adult (ZN: see again note to self). Hoops are usually handmade, and decorated with a variety of beautiful tapes or other materials. If you want to try and make your own hoop, I can recommend that you visit the
Hoop Making Department at Hooping.org for everything you need and so much more. It’s so easy, and very inexpensive! (See also my recommendation for visiting Jasonunbound.com for more!)

I see when designing a hoop, that the process typically employs either polyethylene or polyvinylchloride tubing, e.g. irrigation piping or hosing. As you mention then, “decoration” is typically carried out by adding decorative tapes or wrapping textile materials, or – as you’ve shown – using recycled materials including colored plastic bags to create a “softer” outer texture around the hoop. Just out of curiosity: have you ever attempted to literally “pour” tubing into a mold and create your own hoop from monomeric or other finished polymeric “raw materials”?
No, it’s not really necessary, since poly tubing is readily available (I can order it from the hardware store across the street), and relatively inexpensive.

Why do the designs typically involve opaque, non-transparent tubing? Why not transparent tubing that might have unique coloration or sparkle effects already built into the polymer matrix or that could be added into the interior?
I think that falls into the availability and expense category again. There is clear tubing that is a little more expensive, and some hoop makers make a dazzling display by putting LED lights into them. Perhaps when hooping grows, we’ll be able to go down that road.

If you did have material like this but found that it was perhaps too “soft” for use as hooping, have you considered ways of “hardening” such tubing to make it more suitable? For example, I was wondering if a heavier grade tubing such as you might use in fish tanks (okay, we’re talking about BIG fish tanks) or other such displays might be useful?
Perhaps! It’s something I’ve never personally experimented with.

Is there a material you’d like to work with that you haven’t tried?
I would like to work with a renewable material! It’s been something that many hoopers have found lacking (especially when using plastics).

Okay, appreciating that you have obviously a very keen interest in protecting the environment – noting with congratulations that your own business endeavors are now officially “carbon neutral” – have you or your colleagues at “hoopnotica” (check it out
here) or “hoopgirl” looked together with recycling specialists for a way to create hoops made literally from 100% recycled materials? I mean, wouldn’t it be great if we had a means to put several old soda bottles or milk jugs into one end of a machine and out came a new hoop from the other end? C’mon you’re an engineer, no problem right?
That’s a great idea! Again, I think that goes back to the size of the hooping community. I have a feeling we’ll get there, since there is such a strong interest in protecting our earth’s resources.

In terms of ways to help the environment, I personally will tape and re-tape a hoop as long as it is structurally intact, which is a reduction in the materials needed. This ultimately contributes to less resources being needed which of course leads to less waste, etc...

Getting back to really what seems to be a “renaissance” in the interest in hooping: I’ve seen lots of quotes and videos indicating that it’s becoming increasingly popular as an exercise, with some saying we should “throw away the dumbbells” or “get off the treadmills” while praising hooping’s ability to burn calories quickly and safely.
And lest we forget: hooping has proudly made its way into the programming of a very popular video game that allows the whole family to chose their exercises and compete against each other or virtual partners (I can’t mention it by name without paying royalties, but I think you’re supposed to go “Weeee” when you play it).
With all this in mind, do you or your fellow hoopers welcome this attention or do you feel this somehow detracts from hooping or your own special feelings about it as a true enthusiast, like maybe the whole mainstreaming process takes away some of the youthful rebelliousness or sense of freedom and exuberance you and your friends share?

One of the best things about the hoop is that it can mean so many things to so many people. I personally enjoy the challenges of the tricks, and I know others just love the exercise benefits. Is one of us more right than the other? No way. Hooping is for everyone, and I think that everyone can find something positive in it, whatever that means personally.

And it doesn’t matter if you want to try “hooping” – which is then performing tricks with a hoop – or “hoop dance”, which invites creative expression through the hoop. I always point out that you can practice hoop dance even just knowing how to waist hoop!

For example, I find that practicing hoop dance allows a person to step outside of the daily routine into a circle to find balance and creativity and a joyous experience. It’s great to be open to all of the possibilities that life has to offer, and I believe that hoop dance can be a teacher in this regard. Most importantly: I welcome every opportunity for the hoop to reach a new audience and to continue to grow so that our community can have an exchange of ideas, diversify, and bring a path to hoop happiness to more people.

But how does someone new to the sport/passion learn all the different moves or tricks or whatever?
Through a lot of different ways. One way I learned was by watching others and trying my best to mimic their moves. Hooping in a group inspires trick creativity in my experience. And don’t forget: practice really does make perfect.

One great resource full of videos and photos is
Hooping.org Magazine, which for me is by far the most comprehensive hooping web site out there. They share absolutely great information for hoopers of all levels, with videos, photos, and profiles of other hoopers. Other friends of mine have gained experience through hoop exercise/dance videos and classes. Also, a lot of the major web-sites where folks share their own videos like YouTube include lots of hooping examples.

For myself, I have gained an enormous amount of inspiration from
Baxter and the Hoop Path through his workshops, and of course from the glowing light that shines from within Christabel Zamor through her teacher training (shown here on one of her instructional DVD’s, see her web-site for more!). You simply can not beat Christabel’s enthusiasm and her outlook on life within the hoop! (ZN would like as well to add his own professional opinion here: wowzers!!)

Speaking of enthusiasts, how many “hoopers” do you think are active in the sport-slash-hobby today? Is it a US focused phenomena for now or is it spreading across the globe?
online today, there were just over 2,200 members. I’d imagine at least 5 hoopers off-line for each that is online, which would put the worldwide number somewhere over 10,000 people. While the resurgence has for the most part occurred in the United States, last year’s World Hoop Day event included hoopers from over 16 countries.

Forgive me if this is sexist in any way, but is hooping a primarily “female” focused activity? Or are there scores of both in-shape men as well as us more “full figured” guys out there staying or getting in shape as well with hooping (I loved some of the
videos showing newscasters doing surprisingly quite well with it!)? Do you have an idea about the split?
Although I notice more women than men hooping, there are many interested men! Often when I’m hooping at a concert, it’s the men who want to try it before the women they are with. And there are some amazing male hoopers out there who bring an entirely different meaning to hooping.

Do you think hooping is already having an effect on other “design areas” in our markets? For example, again at
www.hoopnotica.com I noticed offers for a very eclectic series of different apparel and accessories for the fashion-minded hooper who’s looking for, well, a certain look when they go out for a special night of hooping.
Definitely. When you’re in the center of the hoop, it’s really fun to wear something that’s fitting to the activity (e.g. pants that stay up well!), and flattering to the beauty that is created. (ZN: for more, see various links provided at the end of this article)

Danielle, if you could use your fascinating education and skills as an engineer to design anything in the world BESIDES something to do with hooping, what would it be and why?
I definitely have several projects underway! They are a bit secretive at this point (so we can keep our idea!), but I can definitely promise that what I learned about the design process is not just a one time gig.

What’s next for Danielle McIntosh and “hoopelation.com”?
I’ll be headed to Rwanda this winter with
Engineers Without Borders, a terrific group that works to improve the quality of life with disadvantaged communities. Specifically, I’ll be assessing farm fields for soil erosion conditions, and our group will also be looking at biofuels and past projects in the area. In addition, I’ve received a grant from the World Hoop Day Foundation to bring 10 hoops to Rwanda.

Thanks so much for your time, Danielle, this interview has really been a hoot, or should I say, a hoop!
Thank you Ziggy, it’s been a fun interview for me as well!!


Needless to say, Danielle’s Hoopla Rack has been a major success. Not only did she win a whopping total of $5,700 in prize money at the College of Engineering’s Innovation Days this past spring (hey, back when we were in school that was nearly a semester’s tuition!), including a 3rd place prize in the Schoofs (yes, the word is Schoof, see below°) Prize for Creativity competition, plus 3rd place prize in the Tong Prototype Prize competition, and finally the Younkle Best Presentation Award, but she has been inundated with requests for bringing the rack to the general public.

For the rest of you degenerate, we mean, curious engineering types out there, among the main features of the Hoopla Rack include that it is completely collapsible. The rack itself uses four knobs to raise and lower the low-carbon steel bars that hold the hula hoops in place. Simply turn the knobs and you can adjust the position of the arms or the rack. You can go from holding up to seven hoops to having a flat rack in about 10 seconds (keep it clean boys!). The flat rack can then be used as an attachment site for other items. It does indeed fit on your bike quite nicely and allows for complete freedom of movement as you pedal your way down life’s highways and byways. Oh yeah, we should add that Danielle painted it John Deere green as an homage to other students in her field collaborating with that manufacturer.

Although at last check DMc has not yet decided whether she’ll go for all-out marketing of the hula-hoop rack, which with a manufacturing cost of $160 is slightly more expensive than her original goal of $100, but she is currently seeking a patent for the design. Don’t forget as well that she makes and designs her own hula hoops – time permitting! In the meantime, if you find yourself in Wisconsin with some time to kill, check out her hula-hooping courses at Main Street Yoga in Madison. You’ll have a hip-swinging good time for sure!

She has done some other nice “good deeds for the day” with Hoop Elation having sponsored Madison, WI's World Hoop Day event in July 2007 all the while becoming carbon neutral by offsetting 5 tons of carbon dioxide during the process. Danielle also donated hoops to the Madison Children’s Museum last year to offer many more children a chance to enjoy this great activity.

Danielle recommends some of these sites for your perusal, listing here as well some of those not already linked-in above:
Hooping.org : again, one of if not the most comprehensive hooping web site out there, if you want to learn ANYTHING about hooping, start here; - Jason Unbound : another great site to learn to make your own hoop with Jason's famous easy-to-follow instructions (see the earlier collage of pictures from his site);
Hula Hooping Tribe Page : a terrific place to meet hoopers from all over the world in this very active online forum. A great extension of Hooping.org;
Get Your Hoop Groove On : Resources for new hoopers;
Hoopclothes.com : Hot clothing for hooping and beyond;
The Hoop Path : A true inspiration to hoopers everywhere, Baxter spreads plenty of hoopin' love with his workshops, classes, and general mindset on hooping;
Circular Motion : Danielle’s current blog, if you are curious to see what she’s up to these days;

In addition, if we might be so bold, ZN recommends as well:
Hoopnotica.com : Great music and videos with good vibes to greet you, ‘nuff said;
- And finally, “
Hooping the Ziggy Way”. All we’ll say is watch the entire video, our unique method will become apparent during the last 10 seconds of the sketch… hey, who’s laughing, we’re totally serious!

°Richard Schoofs (BSChE `53), chairman of Schoofs Inc., who is acknowledged by his alma mater for his creativity and generosity in sponsoring the annual Schoofs Prize for Creativity.

Hee hee, ZN likes saying schoofs… seems like that’s what a hoop should sound like when it goes around: schoof schoof schoof schoof… sorry, it’s just we’ve been hooping now for a while and haven’t figured out quite how to stop… getting a bit dizzy … helllllppp!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great interview - well done, Ziggy!