by Claudio E. Cabrera
If you’ve walked through Inwood Hill Park on a recent Sunday afternoon, you have probably noticed a bunch of hoops in different colors lying against a tree. If you don’t see them, you can’t miss the people of all ages from the neighborhood hula hooping in unison to music.
For close to two months the weekly Sunday get-together called the Inwood Hoop Jam has become a movement in the Inwood community.
Those hoops rotating around and around an assortment of hips came from … well, around here. Inwood residents Zaida Grunes and her son Ryan McPartland, 16, have been taping and assembling the hoops for months in their apartment and selling them on inwoodhoops.com for $20 to help pay for McPartland to attend Berklee College of Music’s summer program.
“My mom came up with this idea around the time I got accepted to the program. I felt it was a great idea because I didn’t know we would come up with the tuition,” said the 16-year-old McPartland, who currently attends high school downtown at the Institute for Collaborative Education.
Though the tuition is important, McPartland and Grunes aren’t letting the $20 stand in the way of hooping for neighborhood kids. For every $20 hoop sold, another is made for free for a neighborhood kid, who can pick them up at the mom-and-son team’s home or during a hoop jam on Sundays.
“It’s all for a good cause because many families who can’t afford a hoop, can receive one for free; and it’s also helping me to get into my dream program as a musician,” McPartland said.
The process of making hula hoops is fairly simple. But when asked for exact directions on how to build one and the tools needed, Ryan’s mother interjected.
“You know we can’t give away all our secrets right?” said Grunes, smiling. “But I can tell you we provide hoops in three sizes – 4-7 years of age, 8-12, and 13 and up. We also have collapsible hoops if you want to have it on the run.”
It’s true. On Sundays, you will see a bunch of people come with collapsible hoops in their bag heading to the park. You will also see many park-goers who had no idea about the Hoop Jam, join the fray with one of the many practice hoops left over for newbies who want to try. They’re more than welcome because an important part of the Hoop Jam is to bring the neighborhood together.
And that’s what it’s done for Inwoodite Carolina Pichardo. She said all you need are three things to enjoy the experience of hooping: “Humor, a hoop, and hips.”
Pichardo, whose child is a frequent Hoop Jam participant, thinks the idea is great for the community.
“This has allowed me to not only meet great people, but also bond with my young daughter. It’s also shown me that there are some things in life that you just never outgrow,” she said.
Pichardo said she loves to stay fit, but said sometimes you don’t have time for the gym, “and this will give you a similar workout. Plus, my daughter works out with me.”
Inwoodite Jose Breton lost close to five inches off his waist size regularly hula hooping at home and in Inwood Hill Park.
Claudia Lynch, who has worked with Zaida on other projects, couldn’t be happier about hula hooping.
“I’m addicted to hooping. It’s a great workout. I’ve even gotten co-workers involved and we hoop at Central Park. We would usually set up an hour of hooping and end up being in the park for four hours,” said Lynch.
Though the family wouldn’t say how many hoops they’ve sold, many hours have been dedicated by Inwoodites to hula hooping and hula hoop-making, so many that McPartland has a good start towards the $8,000 he needs to go to school.
“We’ve sure made a lot of hoops. I’m very thankful for everyone who has contributed in this process and my mom for thinking of this idea. Without her, my goal of attending Berklee may have never come true,” he said.
(Editor's note: For those who do not want a hoop but want to donate to McPartland's college fund, every $20 will be matched with a free hoop for a neighborhood kid.)