Why did you call your business 'Outoftheblue'?

I chose 'Outoftheblue' because it associates with getting happy, surprise, a calming colour (one of my favourites), movement (always good for a fitness business), looking up, height, sky and sea. What's not to like? It starts with two prepositions, which is very cool (yes, I used to be in linguistics). It's not specifically aerial hoop, which keeps future options open. (I've already got my eye on an aerial spiral...) The surprise part makes me smile, because aerial hoop was such a wonderful surprise in my life, and because people are so surprised when they hear that I do it. 

Why did you decide to start teaching aerial hoop?

I used to work at a university and do research into Computational Linguistics, which is a branch of Artificial Intelligence. It was essentially designing computer programs  that would enable computers to communicate in a human language (English, for example). A desk job. My special interest was language meaning, particularly what people mean when they say things to each other, and how they convey that meaning. You might think that is an easy problem, but that's because you're all linguistics experts, which you have been since you were about 6 years old. 

Anyway, I moved house to Cumbria in December 2015 and found that there wasn't an aerial hoop studio near me. So I practised hoop a lot on my own. Then while I was on a special singing holiday last year with some wonderful people, I began to get ideas about leaving my career path and doing something more fulfilling, more enjoyable, something with people, something that would enable me to bring good things to others. 

I decided to train as a hoop instructor, but also wanted a strong foundation in the principles of fitness and exercise so that I could give my hoop clients a safe and effective service. I got more brave than I thought I ever could be and signed up for Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer certificate courses at Kendal College, and a Hoop Instructor certificate course with Spin City. And then college finished and I waited for some more courage to arrive. And here we are.

Do I have to be strong to start aerial hoop?

In a word, no. Aerial hoop lessons for beginners are carefully designed so that almost anyone can start straight away. (I say almost anyone, because people with certain medical conditions might struggle or it might be dangerous for them. People with certain kinds of vertigo, for example.) The hoop lessons are scheduled so that at the start the emphasis is on getting used to the feel of the steel of the hoop and getting used to the motion of the hoop as it gently sways and spins. You are not expected to be able to climb up into the hoop unsupported to start with. For new beginners I usually hang the hoop low enough for you to hook your knee into it from the ground. As lessons progress, you will find that you get stronger and more flexible, and before long you will be able to lift yourself up into the hoop without support. For beginners, the hardest part is often getting into the hoop.  

Is aerial hoop safe?

The safety of aerial hoop depends on the safety of the equipment (hoop, rigging, mats, etc.) and of the teaching methods. Be assured that I have paid the greatest attention to detail with regard to equipment. With regard to teaching methods, in order to avoid injury, it is critically important that at every hoop class or practice, you prepare your body in particular ways before starting to work on the hoop. You need to warm up your muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons, and you need to warn particular parts of your body that they are going to be doing some unusually hard work. To achieve this, we do joint mobilisation exercises, then a cardiovascular warm up, and then what are called 'dynamic stretches'. Dynamic stretches engage the neuromuscular system, essentially telling the brain to prepare particular body parts for special duty.  

Another safety feature of teaching methods is spotting. Spotting is where a sort of buddy (a 'spotter') on the ground watches and looks after the safety of the person working on the hoop. The spotter is on guard in case the aerialist gets into difficulty, or shows signs or tiredness. The spotter also provides reassurance with new or difficult moves. An important part of hoop lessons is learning how to spot, and you will be instructed in this. 

A third safety feature of teaching is a slow progression up increasingly difficult moves. Aerial hoop will challenge your body in completely new ways, and your body will need time to adjust before being loaded with even more new challenges. 

What do I need to wear for aerial hoop?

In order to be safe and unrestricted in movement, you need to wear close-fitting, stretchy clothes. Baggy tops fall over your eyes when you are upside down and are dangerous. To protect your skin, it is best to wear a top with sleeves, and two pairs of full-length leggings or a pair of running or cycling trousers with footless tights underneath, or slimline joggers with close-fitting ankles.  Shorts with bare legs are unsuitable, as the skin on the backs of your knees will get sore. No jewellery should be worn apart from small earrings. It is also best to work in bare feet. Socks that have sticky grips on the bottom are suitable for most moves. 

Am I too tall or too heavy for aerial hoop?

Aerial hoops come in different sizes. The red one in the website gallery has an outside diameter of 96 cm, which is the size that most people can work with. If you are particularly tall or very short, it may be better for you to work on a hoop of a different size. This depends partly on the ratio of your leg length to your total height.  Hoops of different sizes will be available at classes. 

As for weight, the hoop rigging (that the hoop hangs from) is designed to accept working load limits of thousands of pounds, owing to the dynamic nature of aerial work. The maximum working load limit that the hoop itself can take is 28 stones or 179 kg. This weight is considerably higher than I would expect clients to actually weigh, but there is no expectation or requirement for you to be slim. In fact some padding can be very helpful for some hoop moves. Although I can now do many advanced hoop moves, there are some beginner moves that I still find very uncomfortable, because I don't have enough flesh to provide cushioned support underneath.