Hoola Monsters – Rounding Up The Community

Growing up as a circus gal I met folks who could walk on their hands, fly around in an arena, balance on the heads of elephants, juggle machetes with all ten fingers still in tack, and contort their bodies in unimaginable positions. Being the curious cat that I am, I had the opportunity to try many of these circus trades. However, there was one I was particularly fond of – and that was the art of hula-hooping. I thought that the women who performed this act were goddesses with their glistening smiles, impressive high kicks, and I could watch their hips flick around for days. Performing in a casino when I was hardly even five years old, I remember a hula-hoop performer teaching my sisters and I a few tricks (I may or may not still be able to spin a hoop on my rear end). Although I never actually performed this particular act on stage, I loved rehearsing routines outside of our RV on the circus grounds while traveling. In recent years, I have seen hooping become quite trendy with people of all ages. (And when I say people, I mean “common folk,” not circus performers.) I had to find out more information on this craze locally and how others can learn. Luckily, Downtown St. Pete has a company that keeps our community going ‘round and ‘round. Hoola Monsters, created by Abby Albaum, offers classes for children and adults, has a performing troupe, and even produces their own hoops for you to purchase!

Abby Albaum and The Hoola Monsters hoopin' around in Downtown St. Pete
Abby Albaum and The Hoola Monsters hoopin’ around in Downtown St. Pete

I had the chance to dig into Abby’s hooping mind and here’s what I learned:

What led you to have an interest in hooping? 

I was introduced to the art form when I met Kacey Douglas, who was my neighbor in here in Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida at the time.  She was traveling to music festivals, performing with hula-hoops and selling her handmade creations.  I was completely mesmerized by the grace, beauty and style of modern day hoop dance.  One afternoon in 2007, during happy hour, Kacey handed me a gigantic purple hoop and invited me to give it a try.  I hadn’t hula hooped since I was a child, and let me tell you… I was NOT a natural!  I remember laughing uncontrollably as the hoop fell to the ground countless times…  Kacey was a patient teacher, and I became hooked.  (I always tell my students: If I can learn, anyone can).

Hooping made me feel like a kid again, and it was such a perfect stress relief from my corporate job.  Kacey moved to North Carolina shortly thereafter, and I had caught the hooping bug.  So I turned to You Tube and the Internet to learn as much as I could about this emerging art form.  Back then, online hooping tutorials didn’t really exist, and I found myself obsessively watching videos to learn tricks.

When did you open Hoola Monsters?  

February 14, 2008. I left an 8-year marketing career to go full time with my business in August of 2009. Hoola Monsters was the first full service hoop dance company to open in the state of Florida.

What exactly is Hoola Monsters and how has it evolved since you opened it?

Hoola Monsters, LLC specializes in handmade fitness hoops, hoop dance classes, performances and children’s entertainment.  When I first started the company, I mostly focused on selling my hoops at the Saturday Morning Market and doing demonstrations there.  I also hosted weekly hoop jams in my backyard.  I brought a group of friends together to share tricks and new discoveries.  We learned together, and this group of friends ultimately evolved into a performance troupe.  We had members with strong dance backgrounds as well as a circus performer with Ringling.  They taught me about performance art while I explored the latest hooping tricks and focused on building the business.

Meanwhile, at the Saturday Morning Market, people stopped, stared and asked questions.  It created a buzz in the community, which led to requests for classes, shows and all sorts of interesting opportunities like America’s Got Talent, performances with the Tampa Bay Rays and even a promotional stint with Cirque Du Soleil.  The Hoola Monsters performance troupe also started appearing with bands all throughout the Southeast.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach hoop dance nationwide. I was even quoted as a hoop dance expert in media outlets such as Better Homes & Gardens and the Washington Post.  In 2012, and together with my business partner Suzanne Garth, we launched a children’s adventure and instructional DVD titled “Molly and the Hoola Monsters.” At that time, our sister brand (Hoola Monster Kids) was introduced. Today, we have a full fire dancing troupe and specialize in 5 different fire props, in addition to the hoop.  I also train hoop dance instructors through my ACE (American Council on Exercise)-approved program, Hoola-Fit. 

Abby Albaum at a party with Hoola Monster Kids
Abby Albaum at a party with Hoola Monster Kids
Abby Albaum instrucing a Hoola-Fit Class
Abby Albaum instrucing a Hoola-Fit Class
Hoola Monsters performance group at Hulaween
Hoola Monsters performance group at Hulaween
Hoola Monsters preparing for a fire performance at historic venue NOVA535 in Downtown St. Pete. Photo courtesy of Light of the Moon Photography
Hoola Monsters preparing for a fire performance at historic venue NOVA 535 in Downtown St. Pete. Photo courtesy of Light of the Moon Photography

What are the different types/sizes of hoops for?

Handcrafted hoops are much easier to use than the plastic toy hoops found in stores.  The larger the hoop, the slower it orbits which makes it easier to learn with.  Hoops work like surfboards in the sense, that, as we become more advanced, we have a tendency to size down with smaller, lighter hoops.  Advanced, trick hoopers often use Polypro hoops (a very light and responsive option for those seeking quick directional changes, isolated movements and high tosses) while beginners work best with our “standard” model which is approx. 40 inches in diameter and weighs about a pound to a pound and half.  Beginner hoop sizing is based on height and body type.  If someone is in the market for a hoop, the best bet is to visit me at the Saturday Morning Market so I can help them choose a hoop that will set them up for success.

I often get questions about “weighted hoops” and I never put water, sand or beads inside the hoops I make and sell.  Doing so creates a wonky rotation, making it hard to change directions smoothly.  And I’m big on directional changes, because just like in yoga – it’s important to stay balanced.  We do this by hooping in both directions.  Also, using a hoop that’s TOO heavy can cause injury and bruising.

If someone is interested in hooping, how do they get started?  

Come to a class!  I offer First Class Free for all new students.

Hoola-Fit (Adult Hoop Fitness 2015 schedule):
Mondays from 7-8 p.m. at Willis S. John Rec Center
Tuesdays from 10-11 a.m. at Sunken Gardens

Kids Hooping:
Mondays & Thursdays from 4-5 p.m. at The Vinoy (Club membership required)
Tuesdays from 4-4:45 p.m. at Sunken Gardens 

Where can we see Hoola Monsters hooping soon? 

With the Saturday Morning Market back in season, you can catch Abby Albaum there set up near the band with plenty of hoops for you to borrow on these dates (in 2015):
October 3
October 17
November 28
December 5
December 12, 2015

She also performs every Friday night at Casa Tina’s in Dunedin at 8pm and 9pm. Hoola Monsters vend and perform almost every weekend, and the best way to stay in touch is by following Hoola Monsters on Facebook.

Hoola Monsters, LLC vending booth
Hoola Monsters, LLC vending booth

Next time you see Abby and the Hoola Monsters performing, take a selfie and post it onto Downtown Now – we’d love to hear from you! Create your profile and join our growing online community.

(Featured image: the Hoola-Monsters providing entertainment at a private event at Downtown St. Pete’s gorgeous, meticulously renovated Historical Wedding and Event Venue NOVA 535)

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