Traci Loftus used to be a runner, but she didn’t love it.

“Back when I ran Back Cove, I was always thinking, ‘I can’t wait to get this over with,’ ” Loftus said.

Then last fall, she came down with a severe sinus infection, which put her running regime on hold. Wanting to stay in shape despite her illness, she took an adult education class to learn the art of hula hooping, a new fitness craze that’s sweeping across the nation after becoming all the rage on the West Coast.

She was instantly hooked.

“I’ve stuck with it now that I’m healthy,” Loftus said. “Since last fall, I’ve dropped about 22 pounds.”

Even more impressive than her weight loss is this admission from Loftus: “You cannot hula hoop without a smile on your face.”

While hours spent at the gym make the “no pain, no gain” approach to staying fit seem like the norm, fans of hula hooping — or “hoopers,” as they like to be called — advocate fun with your fitness.

In the Greater Portland area, one of the biggest promoters of hula hooping is Tracy Tingley, often known simply as the Hula Hoop Lady.

You may have seen her hooping outside the Portland Museum of Art during the First Friday Art Walk, in Deering Oaks during the Portland Farmers Market, and at various summer festivals. She also offers adult education classes (such as the one that got Loftus hooping), does workshops at schools, offers team-building exercises for companies, and brings her hoops to private parties.

On Wednesday nights in the summer, Loftus offers a free event, Hoopla, on Portland’s Eastern Prom. At each Hoopla, she sets out her test hoops, cranks the boombox, maneuvers through the hoopers offering advice, and tries her best to get everyone moving their feet in addition to their hips.

A year ago, when Tingley first started hosting the Hoopla events, only a handful of people showed up. In recent weeks, the event has attracted more than 30 people.

While many of us are familiar with the flimsy plastic hula hoops from childhood, the hoops that Tingley and other fitness hoopers use are another breed entirely. They’re crafted from sturdy PVC pipe, filled with a bit of water (which helps keep them aloft) and decorated with colorful tape.

Tingley said she’s encountered many people who suffer from what she calls “hoop shame” — or the fear held over from childhood that attempting to hoop will only make us look foolish.

“I will not let you be humiliated again as an adult,” promised Tingley, who admitted she could never hula hoop as a child. “Everybody can use them. From a 92-year-old man to a 4-and-a-half-year-old. I have a 100 percent success rate. I can get anyone hooping.”

Wherever she sets up, Tingley always has a stack of test hoops available for folks who want to give one a spin. And for those who’d like to make hooping a regular part of their workout routine, Tingley sells her handcrafted fitness hoops for $20 a pop.

“It really works your cardiovascular system, your abdominals and your back,” Tingley said. “It’s good for people with knee surgery and replacements.”

For anyone fighting those impossible-to-lose love handles, Loftus pointed out another benefit: “The hula hoop is one of the only things that melts belly fat away.”

With so many upsides, it’s not surprising to discover the ever-lengthening list of celebrity hoopers includes Beyonce Knowles, Liv Tyler and even first lady Michelle Obama. In her own circle, Loftus has introduced her 8-year-old niece and her tri-athlete friend to hooping.

“I work at a dental office,” Loftus said. “And I’ve gotten all the girls hula hooping. We do it when we have 10 or 15 minutes between patients. It makes you smile, and then you go back to work.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

[email protected]