Hula-Hooping has come full circle in recent years, certainly since the original hoops were made popular by Wham-O in the late 1950s. Between then and now, the Hula-Hoop craze had lost most of its momentum, with sales remaining in a downward spiral for decades. But hooping as a form of fitness has made a comeback, re-emerging as a new and improved workout regime that fitness experts say offers an intense cardio workout.
Nicole Heriot-Mikula, owner of BringtheHoopla, has built a career around this classic slice of Americana. She says the ubiquitous pastime is changing the way people think about physical education.
“Hula-Hooping has provided me with the opportunity to empower thousands of children, set new precedents for fitness, and create a conversation around healthy minds and healthy bodies for children of all ages,” she says.
Heriot-Mikula launched BringtheHoopla in 2011. The business has since been restructured, shifting gears from creating custom-designed hoops to a becoming fully educational fitness company that focuses on children in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.
Curricula offered by BringtheHoopla is designed to meet children at their physical and cognitive levels, while introducing challenge to encourage growth.
“We provide high-quality programming for children of all ages by using the hoop as a form of play, exercise and learning. Our unique curriculum aligns with state and national standards (Common Core) to ensure developmentally appropriate programming that promotes physical literacy,” she says.
Growing up in Shelton and graduating from Shelton High School, Heriot-Mikula pursued a BFA in Music Theater from The Hartt School at the University of Hartford, which led to an 11-year career in theater in New York City.
“As an actor, there’s a few things you need: persistence, determination, the ability to work well with others, always remembering to put your best foot forward, and a sense of humor. I took that all with me,” she says.
But after living in New York City for a decade, Heriot-Mikula wanted to build something from the ground up.
“I wanted to be a part of the community again and give back to a community that meant so much to me growing up. There is such a strong feeling of solidarity and teamwork to give back to the place you call home and when we started this business, that’s what we did. We still strive to give back as much as we can,” she says. “My dear friend in Seymour loved to Hula-Hoop and began constructing hoops, and she asked if I wanted to go into business together and see where it could take us.”
BringtheHoopla’s first class was a hooping fitness class held in downtown Shelton, upstairs at the Echo Hose Fire Department in 2011.
“Then we continued to book whatever came our way. I totally believe that in business, if someone is interested, as the business owner you figure out a way to make it happen,” she says. “Through the summer, we did beach classes and a ton of free stuff just to be a part of the community. And that was the first year of business – diving in and beginning a business with complete passion and excitement and really not knowing the exact direction we were going in.”
Although Heriot-Mikula never initially imagined she would venture into the educational fitness world, says points to BringtheHoopla’s quality of programming and instructors as the number one reason the business has sustained and grown to what it is today.
“A business is only as strong as your team is. I am very grateful to have an incredible team, led by Sarah Murphy, our program director, and who I believe is the true face of BringtheHoopla,” she says. “We are indeed a small business, but our sales increase year after year, primarily by word of mouth, and as they say, that’s the best form of advertising.”
Using positive reinforcement and encouragement to foster persistence, self-confidence and free expression for all students, Heriot-Mikula has worked to integrate the company’s hooping programs into the educational ecosystem across the state.
BringtheHoopla has partnered with schools and organizations across Connecticut, including the Hartford Public Library, the Connecticut Folk Festival in New Haven, Mary R. Tisko Elementary School in Branford, the Bethany Parks and Recreation Commission, and Naugatuck Public Schools, among many others.
“Being integrated in school districts is an organic process that takes patience and consistent efforts,” she says. “Our program is successful within schools because our curriculum embodies the key themes and conversations we need to be having with our children about the importance of physical fitness, self-esteem, self-confidence, and loving ourselves for who we are.”
BringtheHoopla’s early learning curriculum is a six-week, hoop-centered program designed for children ages three to five. The curriculum supports and aligns with the Connecticut Early Learning and Development Standards, using Hula-Hoops as a tool to promote physical activity and offer developmentally appropriate learning experiences.
For children in kindergarten through sixth grade, BringtheHoopla offers 60- to 90-minute programs over a multi-week session, with the capability of extending up to 15 weeks. The elementary curriculum focuses on physical literacy, team building, conversational and group discussion skills, positive self-image, and self-expression through movement and dance.
The beauty of BringtheHoopla, Heriot-Mikula says, is the ability to fully customize programming for any setting, ranging from schools and libraries to community and senior centers, birthday parties, corporate events and ladies’ nights.
“This past year, we facilitated programming in over 250 public and private schools, libraries, summer camps and preschools. We taught over 3,800 students. We are always partnering with organizations to continue our outreach and to build awareness of who we are and what we do,” she says.
Joanne Bonomo, site coordinator for the City of Bridgeport’s Lighthouse Program, says BringtheHoopla has been a partner in its summer program for the last three years.
The Lighthouse Program was designed to blend community and school visions to give Bridgeport’s youth educational, cultural, and recreational opportunities through diverse programming. The summer program runs for five weeks, incorporating science, dance, art, theater, music and various sports.
“Initially, I wasn’t sure if the kids would take to Hula-Hooping. But it’s a program that they really look forward to,” says Bonomo. “The instructors are incredible; it’s amazing what they can do with a Hula-Hoop. The program is both a social and physical experience.”
She says the summer program serves more than 200 students.
“Kids today, they’re either on their phone or playing a game. They don’t seem to get the physical activity that they need,” Bonomo says. “Hula-Hooping gives them the outlet they need for physical activity and also creativity.”
Photographed by Stan Godlewski