Eyes of Eau Claire: Michelle Bolwerk

Experiences with hula-hooping shed light on alternative fitness in the Chippewa Valley community

More stories from Elizabeth Gosling



Michelle Bolwerk works as a travel agent for Holiday Vacations and teaches pole fitness classes at Dragonfly Dance and Wellness in Eau Claire. In the meantime, she creates routines with hula hoops and said the activity has helped her overcome mental barriers and be confident in herself.

Exercising may be thought of as a chore, but a recent alternative fitness movement could be a light in the darkness for those looking to stay fit and have fun at the same time.

If you could be having fun while getting fit, it would not only help you accomplish your goal of being in shape but also boost your confidence and improves overall wellness, said local performance artist Michelle Bolwerk.

“I think that adults often lose their sense of play,” Bolwerk said. “I think most people probably hula-hooped as children but they just think, ‘oh that’s for children,’ or, ‘I can’t do that anymore’ or we just think it’s not for us, and it’s for everybody.”

As a performance artist, Bolwerk uses hula hoops to connect with her love of music. When she was younger, she said she learned piano, flute and saxophone and has always enjoyed listening to music. Now, as a member of the Torch Sisters and a pole fitness teacher, Bolwerk uses hula hoops to stay fit and have fun.

Bolwerk graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2014 with a sociology degree with a minor in health and wellness studies. Before she got into hula-hooping, she said she did school sports, but none that integrated music with the movements.

When she discovered hula-hooping at Eau Claire’s Fire Ball five years ago, Bolwerk said she fell in love with the art form and started pursuing it instantly, guiding herself with YouTube tutorial videos and connecting with a performer from the university’s annual event. After being invited to a few jam sessions, Bolwerk got more involved with the “flow art” community in Eau Claire.

“The reason it is called a flow art is because you essentially learn different movements, different tricks, and then you flow them all together so that you can listen to music and start moving,” Bolwerk said. “You’re in a high level of concentration, mentally and physically, where you kind of lose the ability to think about everything else. You’re entranced in that movement, and that has been very healing for me.”

Kelsey Nocek, a musician and friend of Bolwerk’s, said she learned one of the tricks Bolwerk taught her called “isolation.” The move involves rotating a hula hoop in one hand, making it appear to stay in the same spot without changing position except for the rotation of the hoop.

Nocek said she did not understand the complexity of the activity but learned that hooping is just like anything else.

“I think people don’t understand how many options to fitness there are,” Nocek said. “I think that alternative fitness is awesome. I really love rock climbing, and I think that works the entire body and muscles that you didn’t even know could be worked the way that they are in rock climbing.”

Bolwerk’s motivation, she said, comes from the fun she has when doing the activity. She said many adults may be skeptical at first when reacting to her hula-hooping, but then it turns into interest. Because of its ability to spark curiosity, she said, there is a cycle of learning and teaching because everyone brings different perspectives to hula-hooping.

She said she hopes to continue hula-hooping until she is 90 years old and “spread the magic” of the art form.

“I want to always incorporate playful artistic movement in my life, no matter what shape that takes on,” Bolwerk said. “My goal as far as hoop dancing is to always keep it up and keep learning and keep teaching, formally or informally.”

Besides hula-hooping, Bolwerk also teaches pole fitness classes at Dragonfly Dance and Wellness and has recently started belly dancing.