Abby Albaum's climb up the corporate ladder began with a global public relations job in New York and ended with a Hula Hoop lesson in Tampa Bay.
"Kacey Douglas, a traveling nurse, showed me how to hoop," said Albaum, 31. "I was totally inspired, but two months later, she moved away. It was the summer of 2007. I had a million questions, but no one to teach me."
Albaum turned to the Internet to learn twirls, jumps and spins. She searched for other hoopers and found them at Treasure Island Beach Drum Circle gatherings. While she worked in marketing full time for a Sarasota restaurant company, she made and sold hoops on weekends at the Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg.
Before long, word spread: Albaum was the go-to person for the scoop on hoops.
"Hooping is a mind, body, spirit practice," she said. "After hooping for a while, I started feeling healthier, not just physically, but mentally, which surprised me. I'd struggled with depression for years after my cousin, who was like a brother to me, committed suicide. I went off all my medication and haven't needed it since. After that, I felt it was my duty to share what I'd found with others."
Fast forward to February 2008. Albaum founded a business she calls Hoola Monsters. She began building a website, teaching classes and growing her hoop business. By the summer of 2010, she had left marketing to pursue Hoola Monsters full time.
Now, each Wednesday morning, people arrive at Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg before the gates open to meet Albaum. They learn basic hoop dance moves inside a large carpeted room that overlooks lush greenery and flowers.
Albaum also teaches children the art of hooping at Roberts Youth Center in St. Petersburg, offers weekly adult classes in Tampa and gives workshops at Dance and Circus Arts of Tampa Bay in Clearwater.
"Abby teaches Hula Hooping workshops at our studio," said Beth Brier, director of Dance and Circus Arts. "The next (workshop) will be multilevel, so all are welcome. Everyone loves her and gets inspired by her warmth and genuine nature."
This summer Albaum will teach at the first HoopGirl Empowerment Retreat in Mill Valley, Calif., Aug. 5-7.
Albaum is quick to tell anyone interested in hooping that today's hoops are weighted and move more slowly around the body than the Hula Hoops of yesteryear.
"My hoops are individually created to fit any person's body size and shape," Albaum said.
Once a week she packs up a unique hoop and heads to Casa Tina, a Mexican restaurant in Dunedin, to perform. The hoop has LED lights and creates a colorful light trail as it seems to swirl around Albaum's body.
"It's fun, different and entertaining for customers," said Tina Avila, who co-owns Casa Tina with her husband, Javier. "Abby performs every Friday night. We've been trying to source different artists. We like to sponsor and support local artists."
Albaum plans to write a book about the positive changes hooping brought to her life. With each class, she gathers more validation that once people stop worrying about dropping their hoop or looking silly, hooping can help them swap stress for joy.
"Hooping is simple, childlike and fun," Albaum said. "I think as adults we forget how to play. Hooping helps us remember. I know it's true, because people leave my class and they're beaming."