Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hula Hoops

This week, the group in the OGR chatroom reminded me of something that I have not thought about in years, Hula Hoops! They were everywhere when I was growing up in the late 50s and the early 60s. But some of the younger listeners in the chat room had never heard of them.

Hula hoops are nothing new. They were around in ancient civilizations but nothing prepared the world for the hoop invasion of my youth. Hula Hoops gained international popularity in the late 1950s when a plastic version was successfully marketed by California's Wham-O toy company. The hoops were made from plastic tubing about the size of a garden hose and were formed into a circle with a radius of 42 inches. A national marketing and retailing campaign complete with give-aways, created a fad. Beginning in July, 1958 twenty-five million plastic hoops were sold in less than four months, and in two years sales reached more than 100 million! During 1950s when the hula hoop craze swept the country, Carlon Products Corporation was producing more than 50,000 hula hoops per day.

I can tell you that they were a big hit in my family, my sister owned several of them and although my brothers and I declined to purchase our own personal hula hoop on manhood grounds, we all tried to master the hoop that my sister twirled around her waist with ease. Nothing doing; it just wasn't going to happen for us. I figured out later in life that it was a guy thing that kept us from becoming masters of the hoop. In 1977, I was the chief engineer of WIS radio. One of my duties was to produce the remote broadcasts of the University of South Carolina football team. That year the job took me to Hawaii, yeah, I know, tough job but someone had to do it. It was Thanksgiving weekend and the team, staff and our families were invited to an honest to goodness luau, complete with hula dancers. The female dancers singled out men in the audience to be taught how to hula. It was hilarious; none of us, football player, coach or broadcast engineer could sway like they did. After the laughing was over and we returned, embarrassed to the core, back to our seats in the audience, the male dancers came out and performed. Only they did not hula like the women did, they moved their knees apart and together like someone "doing the Charleston." No, not the front and back motion, the side to side one with the hands moving back and forth across the knees. Bang! Flash! A light bulb went off in my head. Men can't move their hips in a hula motion. Mystery solved!

Hula hoops crossed generational lines in my family. My mother and aunts took to them like my sister and cousins did and they all had great fun doing something that the men in my family never could master.

Sometimes I think the hula hoop was a sign of oncoming change. Have you noticed that whenever a band is playing a great dance song of our generation, the young folks are not dancing, the older folks are. We are all transported back to that time and place where the stars shone brightly, the music was full of soul and horns and we are all young again, dancing and remembering the loves of our lives, like they were back then. Oh MY!

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