When you hear the words "hula hoop," you probably don't think about bloodthirsty British barbarians, sexually charged creation myths or artistic statements full of barbed wire and nudity. But guess what? There's much more to the hula hoop than a mere 1950s toy craze.

As a cultural artifact, the hoop toy weaves in and out of human history. They rolled through the streets of ancient Asia and Africa. They appear in Pieter Bruegel the Elder's paintings of 16th-century peasant life and existed in North America long before the arrival of Europeans.

Today, you'll find hula hoops spinning around the waists of tribal shamans, video game assassins and fire dancers. They're at once items of nostalgic whimsy, childhood innocence, sexual magnetism and physical fitness. It only takes a modicum of physical ability to use one correctly, yet hula masters refine hooping to an athletic art form.

The hula hoop has existed in various forms for thousands of years, and people of all ages continue to lose themselves to the rhythm of circular motion.

That motion, of course, is the key.

For all the nostalgia hula hoops evoke, there's no getting past the basic physics involved in spinning the thing around your body.

So step inside the hoop, skip to the next page and prepare to get physical.