Hoop dreams

culture@sfbg.com

RENEW Christabel Zamor moves like a snake — eyes fixed, lithe body writhing, hips rippling back and forth — which isn’t really surprising, considering the number of times she’s shed her skin.

Zamor is a hoopdancer — one of those sylph-like sirens who show up at parties and raves and on the playa in order to make the men drool and the women vow to do sit-ups. She credits hooping as the secret to her sensuous shape — but if you’re thinking of getting out your snake charmer’s flute, let’s get one thing straight: in this case, it’s the sexy serpent who’s charming you.

Zamor is magnetic and incredibly talented, but what sets her apart from other Bay Area hoopers is her avid following, cultivated by Hooping! The Book!, an array of instructional DVDs and 72-hour teacher training program that has certified 570 instructors in 16 countries. Zamor is HoopGirl® — a persona that not only has allowed her to whittle her waist and tone her tummy but to explode into a fitness franchise.

An erstwhile doctoral student and one-time “heavy-set, shy academic,” Zamor says she transformed her life — and her body — through hooping’s calorie-burning workouts and confidence-building powers. She now travels the world as a fitness trainer and empowerment coach, teaching people that they can do the same thing.

“I wasn’t really looking for hooping,” she says. At 27, Zamor was a UC Santa Barbara PhD student struggling to find academic support for her interest in ethnomusicology and drumming. Frustrated, she dropped out from her program after receiving a master’s degree, traveled to Senegal to study djembe, returned to the States, enrolled in Pacifica Graduate Institute’s master’s program in mythology and depth psychology, and began working as a personal assistant. Amid the confusion, she says she didn’t have the power to envision a life outside her studies. “I wanted to be a healer but didn’t know it,” she says.

But a simple circle changed all that. At a Gathering of the Tribes conference in Los Angeles, Zamor fortuitously picked up her first hoop — and HoopGirl was set in motion.

Zamor claims she never had a hula hoop as a child, but from the first instant she picked up the plastic ring and it clattered uncooperatively to the ground, she was hooked. Despite the initial “experience of not succeeding,” she was captivated by the hoopers around her — “beautiful nymphs undulating gorgeously” — and she was determined to become one.

“I got a hoop and started practicing in the park, in rhythm with high-energy trance or electronic music,” she says, and crowds “just started gathering.” When a newspaper reporter wrote a story on her weekly spin sessions, “100 people showed up wanting to hoop.”

Hooping has provided Zamor with a means of transformation, for her physical body as well as her spiritual self. She describes hooping as the portal that awakened her to underground subcultures like the circus-arts scene and artistic communities like Burning Man.

Zamor found that she could hoop for six hours at a time and that it catalyzed a level of physical and spiritual presence she describes as a “quickening” of the body. She interprets the orbital motion of the hoop as “intrinsically about coming back to your center,” a practice that stills mental chatter.

Hooping also began to fill in for the cultural activity that Zamor had so desperately wanted to study at UCSB. She had sought to understand how tribal rituals played a role in society, but she realized that dissecting a cultural form appropriated from the third world brought up questions of co-optation that she didn’t want to wrestle with. Hooping provided the same rhythmic, percussive, ritualistic aspects and counted as an indigenous rite in California in the early aughts, when its popularity was exploding. Burning Man was where Zamor tapped into hooping as a “sacred, transcendent experience,” one that she ultimately felt empowered to interpret for a national audience.

Now 10 years later, Zamor has performed at events for Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, and Cirque du Soleil. She has been hired to represent fitness brands and health club chains. She is licensing HoopGirl® Workout teachers across Canada, England, Australia, and the United States, where her hoop regimen has been certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.

At 38, she is a fitness guru and the leader of a profitable exercise business. In her books and DVDs, she maintains a bubbly exuberance in describing her physical transformation. “My unwanted extra fat just disappeared and was replaced by gorgeous muscle,” she crows, describing her journey. But she leaves out transcendence at Burning Man in favor of the elation of calories burned.

Zamor admits that she has had to be a chameleon to market herself and her hooping. Unlike other elite hoopers who began to develop the art form around the same time or even earlier, Zamor hasn’t been content to limit herself to a part of the San Francisco subculture. She hopes to bring legitimacy to hooping, which sometimes means talking abs and aerobics. “To spread hooping, I have to be able to spread the lingo. I gain respect by speaking a language that people respect.”

But when she is training HoopGirl dancers, she says she still refers to hooping as a spiritual practice. Her mantra — hooping is sexy! — is as much about a sense of self-worth as a satisfying session in the sack. The once “introverted loner” has been able to use hooping to help shed her old self, literally — and she’s eager to show us that results are replicable at home.

“The hoop adheres better to bare skin,” she explains, “so I started wearing less clothing. Showing my arms, showing my legs — it’s like the hoop was asking me to take those things off. I started to feel like I didn’t have to hide who I was.”

Flipping through pages of toned hotties in her book, or watching the bootie-shorted babes in her DVDs, it might be difficult to believe that the sexiness of hooping isn’t about, well, sex. But Zamor says there is something deeply and inherently feminine about the hoop — and it’s not just that the ladies look better shakin’ it.

After two surgeries for endometriosis, Zamor is convinced that the “soothing gyrations” of the hoop against her pelvis have helped heal her. “Hooping provided the insight I needed to slow down and focus on my body,” she says, explaining that it’s also a way to strengthen her core and reproductive organs, bringing fresh blood to the pelvic region and awakening her libido. Now, six years since her last surgery, she emphasizes that her doctor was amazed at how quickly she healed by hooping through the ordeal.

Next up, Zamor will be working on bringing that whole-body healing to women who may not be willing to step inside the hoop. She has expanded her business to include empowerment classes that honor the “divine, delicious feminine” and that will help women become a more supple, radiant, and luminous version of themselves, she says.

These classes in “hooping outside the hoop” are geared toward helping others uncover the empowerment and sense of self-worth that Zamor has found through HoopGirl. Of course, unless Zamor is planning on turning out hundreds of successful fitness revolutionaries with profitable book deals of their own, it’s hard to say whether her personal transformation will be replicable. But with one irresistible smile from Zamor, it’s easy to see that the hoop has worked for her — and difficult to resist the urge to run out and buy one for oneself.