Katie Pinto | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Katie Pinto

A popular '90s jam band brought hula hooping back. Now, this "professional play artist" bases her life and work around the iconic hoop

Katie Pinto
Lisa Sipe

It all started as a joke. Katie Pinto was in her mid-20s, in a band. The drummer found a hula hoop and thought it would be funny if Pinto learned to use it. It took her three weeks to get going.

"You are taking things too seriously, just walk forward while the hoop is spinning," the drummer told Pinto. She did, and she's been seriously hooping ever since.

The hula hoop gained international popularity in the late 1960s but faded away until The String Cheese Incident, a Colorado jam band, started throwing adult-sized hula hoops to their audiences in the mid-1990s. That inspired audiences to use the hoops and dance, creating a hoop community that spread over time.

Pinto says hooping changed her life. As she sat across from me in iridescent, teal, fish-skinned tights and a mismatched, flowy Bohemian shirt, she said, "I saw a physical benefit. It was the first fitness activity I didn't get bored with. I did it consistently and lost weight. Getting in shape made me want to eat better and have a healthier lifestyle." Hooping gave her confidence, and her friends noticed. They wanted to learn how to hoop, too.

When Pinto was learning to hoop, finding an actual hula hoop was hard, so she started making her own. With her own hoops she started teaching. Like Pinto, students couldn't find hoops on the market, so they bought them from her. When Pinto found hula hooping she was using her masters in business as a training manager for Godiva Chocolatier. She quit the corporate life, bought a new car and traveled the country, teaching hula hooping at schools and libraries and selling custom hoops along the way.

Moving your hips in a circular motion has benefits

Pinto has seen lives changed with hula hoops. She said, "I worked with a guy that had a severe spinal injury. He did yoga and hula hooping as his physical therapy. It repaired his spine without surgery." Pinto also saw one of her friends pick up the hula hoop after having her second child. She lost 80 pounds from hooping, Pinto says. The friend picked up the hoop whenever she had time and used it with her kids.

Beyond the hoop

A "play professional" is now how Pinto sees herself. She teaches yoga, hula hooping and music, sometimes combined, to kids and adults. She wants to show people how exercise can be a side effect of having fun. The hula hoop can also be a connector. Pinto uses it as a team building or staff development workshop for corporations. "It's challenging for everyone," she said, "but accessible for all. Everyone feels silly. If you can feel silly around family or your coworkers, it makes other social dynamics easier to deal with. You can connect without having to be vulnerable."

Still making hoops

Katie Pinto
Lisa Sipe

Making hoops is still part of Pinto's life. Instead of making them herself she works for The Spinsterz, a professional hula hoop manufacturer in Bend. She designs custom hula hoops and travel hula hoops. A hula hoop can be designed to come apart and fit in a suitcase. Currently, Pinto is working on a custom performance hoop for a client in England. The hoop designs differ depending on her clients' needs. She's created custom hoops for a client with osteoporosis, pregnant women and lots of custom designs for professionals who need them for specific styles of dance.

Pinto herself is like one of those hoops thrown into the crowd by The String Cheese Incident. She's been creating community around hooping ever since she picked up that hoop "as a joke." She's still teaching hula hooping at libraries, and she has weekly classes and workshops. Learn more about Pinto and her classes at pintobella.com.

About The Author

Lisa Sipe

Food Writer | The Source Weekly
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