I have been watching Mona Qaddoumiaka ShpongledHoops from Vermont USA on YouTube for a long time and am consistently mesmerised by her skill, her flow and her costumes. She is an enigma, a whisper on the wind, elusive yet present, like a dream. Her
style hypnotic and captivating she is phenomenally incredible and I
felt compelled to contact her despite feeling nervous and unusually in
awe of her, how delighted I am that she agreed to answer my questions to
satisfy my curiosity and hopefully yours too. Spirit Hoop Cake readers get yourself a drink and a snack then prepare to be enlightened and inspired!
Mona, thank you so very much for giving me some of your time to answer my questions! How are you today? :o)
I'm doing very well today, thank you! Busy like a bee, but feelin' good.
Let’s start at the beginning of your hoop dance story, when did you first become attracted to hooping? Do you recall the first time you encountered it?
The first time I saw hooping was when I was studying abroad in Italy, my sophomore year of college. I
was watching youtube videos in my neighbor's apartment and we came
across a video submission for "That old pair of Jeans" by Fatboy Slim. It
was of a girl hula hooping all over her body with one hoop, two hoops
and finally five and it was real dancey, not just hoop manipulation.
I had put on a few 'pasta pounds' and was feelin' a bit anxious about staying in shape. I couldn't afford to go to the gym in Florence, so I wasn't really exercising (I tried running a few times, but I decided I didn't really like running). Before
I went to Italy I had gotten into going to the gym and working out, so I
was really aching for heart pumping, mind clearing, rapid movement.
So it was at that point on, I decided I wanted to start using a hula hoop to exercise. I needed some form of exercise, that was relatively inexpensive and that was fun enough that I'd actually want to go do it. All signs pointed to Hooping. So as if the collective conscious overheard my epiphany, a few days later I found a small plastic hoop. I don't know what it was used for, but I found it in the art studio I did my work at. It was too small for my waist so I practiced hand and neck hooping for a couple of weeks. I took that thing everywhere I went.
After having initially come into contact with hoop dance what inspired you to pick it up and learn for yourself? Did you learn in isolation or did you attend any classes?
What really inspired me to pick up the hoop and learn for myself was my desire to be physically healthy. Soon after that, it evolved into being inspired by my increasing mental health.
There is something about Hoop Dancing (and dancing in general) that is very meditative. Especially when it is enhanced by our favorite music.
would say for the majority of the time I learned by studying other
people on youtube, but when I returned to the States many of my friends
got into it too. We would get together and explored the hoop...teaching each other tricks we had learned or figured out by mistake.
I’m always curious about how hoopers learn their craft, what approaches do you employ to acquire your skills? Have you got any advice/encouragement for new hoopers who may berate their progress unnecessarily?
A lot of my practice is very repetitive. I just practice doing the same tricks or movements over and over and over again. I keep my entire focus on the movements and try and keep my breathing very steady. I
also try and remain aware that the process is just as important as the
outcome and that if I don't get the move right away it's okay. I don't put myself down if I'm having a hard time, but sometimes I do have to walk away. Also
when thinking about the process, if I can't get something one day I try
not to think of it as a defeat, but as slowly making progress. Positive thinking really helps!
one thing that keeps me going out of all the things I think about it,
is "If they can do it, I can do it"...which may seem silly, but I like
to think that nothing is impossible if I've seen it done before.
What was your most challenging move to acquire? What techniques did you employ to fuel your perseverance and how did you celebrate mastery of those moves? What are you learning at the moment?
My most challenging move that I acquired would probably be hooping on one leg. I had a real hard time learning that. Leg hooping was fascinating, but seemingly impossible for me. I can remember the day I got the one legged hooping though. I practiced probably for 6-7 hours in the hot humid sun of a New England summer hooping on my knees and pulling one leg out, over and over. I
hit my ankle so many times, banged up my foot real good and hit myself
in the nose a few times, but at the end of the day I got it. Only once, but I was raging with excitement for the rest of the evening. My contributing techniques: concentration and relentlessness.
My current, most challenging move, that I still have not mastered, is sustained spinning. I commend Spiral, Jewels and Shakti Sunfire for their amazingly fluid, hypnotic and balanced sustained spinning. I know there are many who are very good at sustained spinning, but those three really put me in awe. One needs superior concentration to pull it off with true fluidity.
notice that you have the most incredible flow to your dance, any tips
for hoopers (like me!) who are working on acquiring the same? It’s as if you have this dynamic connection to the hoop, gorgeous work Mona!
Haha! Thanks!! :) My flow centers around two things; my focus and my emotion. The more emotional I am when Hoop Dancing the more apparent the focus. There's
something powerful about my emotions that pull me into an altered state
of consciousness (different emotions=different types of awareness). The Hoop (and sometimes paintbrush!) lift those emotions to the forefront through bursts of expression and flow. Being creative and expressive are things I truly love to do and Hoop Dancing fully embraces those concepts.
My tips for flow, is to only think about what's happening between you and your hoop. It also helps me concentrate if I'm listening to music I really enjoy, like Shpongle :) or Dubstep. So just preparing yourself to get in that altered state of mind can help keep you there, thus giving you a more effortless flow. Be delicate, mindful and let the hoop move you.
I also want to ask about your ability to transition so smoothly between your moves, what helps you to do this so creatively?
I practice transitions BIG time! I truly believe that transitions are just as important as the tricks themselves. Most of my transitions are just my own variations (or exactly the same) of ones that I've seen other people. A
sprinkle of them are ones I created myself and there are also some that
happen just by default because that's how my body reacts to the
A bit of a basic question I know but tell me about your lovely hoop! What size do you tend to play with and what colours inspire or influence the way you hoop? :o)
I have two main hoops. One
is an old guy that I bought two years ago offline from either Hoop Girl
or Hoopnotica, I can't remember, and the other is a newer guy (bout 8
months old). The newer one is made out of a much
softer tubing than the one I got online and I like using that one for
very fast dances and reversals. The harder tubing one is great for off-axis sustained spinning/isolations. They are both about 36" in diameter.
I also have a 28" hoop that I play around with occasionally...I go lightening fast with it, but I hit myself a lot. And then I have my white light LED hoop which is 32".
I stick with black and white because they're so universal. I also think it's an inherent attraction through my DNA. My parents' both love black and white, with almost everything in their house reflecting that love!
my own practice there is a move I’m working on which seems to be
eluding me somewhat and by asking for advice you will help me and no
doubt many others! Have you got any golden tips for getting the leg back in after one legged hooping? :o)
This was something I struggled with a lot too. I tend to 'cheat' on this one...when I want to stop hooping on the one leg most of the time I just bend over and pull it up. But occasionally I will put my leg back in and shimmy it up. My advice is to break it down. Instead
of trying to learn how to get it down to your legs, pulling a leg out
and then putting it back in, just focus on one move. So for getting your leg back in, start spinning the hoop on the one leg with a push from your hands. Once you've got that rhythm going you wait for the tail end of the hoop to start going around the back of you. Once
you see, or feel the hoop making that final rotation to go behind you
stick your foot back in! and kind of shake your behind/torso up and
down. You want to get under the hoop to lift it
so you have to bend your knees a bit and then to lift it you gotta push
up with your torso/behind. Hope that helps :)
in both directions is useful in creating balance in the body and in
order to develop equal muscle strength and dynamism in performance, did
you learn to hoop both ways when you began hooping or did you reach a
point in your practice when you decided to explore the other direction
you hooped less in? (for me I find that my body
wants to resist it with my body attempting to hold or twist
inefficiently, I really have to gently coax my body into working with me
and relaxing more to except and embrace it) Do you have any insight as
to why the second direction feels so alien to some hoopers?
I first started hooping I definitely hooped in one direction, but it
wasn't too long afterwards that I got used to the other direction.
The second direction should feel alien to hoopers. It's just like writing with your non-dominant hand. By coming to an understanding that it WILL feel different will make it easier to learn how to do it. If
you expect it to feel the same way as it does in your dominant
direction than it'll be a long, frustrating and cumbersome task to try
and learn it. Embrace the difference, it won't
come naturally (unless your ambidextrous) so even though you can do it
effortlessly in one direction, you may have to concentrate a lil more
going the other way.
researching you I noticed you describe yourself in an interesting way
on YouTube and I’d love to hear more about what you have written as I’m
sure many people feel similarly and perhaps are unable to articulate
what you seem to be exploring. You write that
“Hooping is what creates our infinity” and that “It is an exploration
into the multidimensional realms of the cognitive and physical
look to capture the minds of others in a web of questions that will
take their thoughts further than its terrestrial boundaries” Can you
elaborate in more detail what you mean by this? :o)
is what creates our infinity" is a quote I unconsciously wrote on my
friend's planner board in her kitchen during a party. I try to understand it, but I'm not exactly sure what it means. I've come up with varying theories, but I think the most coherent one is the simplest. Hoops
are circular/elliptical which are infinite shapes, there is no
beginning and there is no end...and hooping takes us into this infinity,
where there is no beginning and no end, which for me, is a very
attractive concept. ...going out on a limb, it's a similar concept to
"an exploration into the multidimensional realms of the cognitive and physical potentials" is a quote from my artist statement. My
art work, may it be painting, sculpting or hoop dancing, is an
exploration into what I am capable of doing mentally and physically as a
human being. I'm very interested in learning about the capabilities of the human body and mind. We use so little of it in this day in age and we have such little faith in it. I
hope to "capture the minds of others in a web of questions that will
take their thoughts further than its terrestrial boundaries". I want people to understand themselves better and to use their body and mind as resources. I
truly believe that we have ultimate control over our bodies and that we
need to embrace this concept to develop ourselves into more holistic
looking at your hooping I can definitely see how you embrace it as a
performance art moving completely in the other direction of many hoopers
who champion the fitness element, how is hooping art for you? What are you feelings, if any, about hooping as fitness?
Hooping is as much of an art for me as painting. The same aesthetic awareness and creative processes are present when performing the two. Art is about creativity and the manipulation of tools. Art is about expression and communication, whether it be through a fleeting moment or a tangible object. I find both Hoop Dancing and painting as equals in the art world. Art can be created in many different ways and should not be limited to any one form.
Hooping as fitness is a great idea! That's what got me so interested in it in the first place. Like art, I don't think anything should be limited to one form. Hoop Dancing is as much about health as it is about expression.
One of the things that captivates me about your performing is your use of masks. I
studied mask at drama school (neutral mask, commedia dell’arte and
trestle mask) and am curious as to your use of them in performance and
whether you make them yourself? I believe that masks reveal more than they conceal, remarkably so, what do you think masks reveal about you?
I do make my masks myself. They are relatively simple, made from bare masks that I find at the craft store with feathers and sequence. Once my budget widens, I plan on making more extravagant ones, out of better material.
I use the masks for 2 main reasons, 1) for comfort and 2) for ambiguity. I
like being able to look at my audience head on because of the emotional
response, but it's not always easy...the mask helps me out in that
The ambiguity is the reason why I started wearing the mask. I
was getting real caught up in watching hooping videos, checking out
hooping.org, chatting on the many forums of tribe and I felt myself
getting anxious. I started to really want to be
noticed and hooping, which was once a freeing/healthy way of expression,
became this daunting, competitive addiction. Wearing the mask freed me from this short-lived conundrum (as well as canceling my account on tribe). It made me realize that Hoop Dancing isn't about the person, it's about the movement, the body and the hoop.
The mask plays as a constant reminder to myself of this notion and I hope that others can see this too. I think it will become more coherent when I develop the idea more.
know you perform a lot and am interested to know about your initial
experiences when performing hoop dance, what was your first experience
like? If you have a piece of advice for hoopers who wish to engage in performance more what advice will you be able to offer?
My first experience performing was with one of my dearest friends, DJ Haitian, in this somewhat shanty bar/club in Burlington, Vermont. I didn't have a stage, and was told to dance in the audience with my hoop that I had covered in glowsticks. Needless
to say, it wasn't the most spectacular and being that my friends were
throwing the party, I was put on the DJ's tab (aka I drank a few too
many) . No doubt I had fun! but, to rate the overall performance it was a bit sloppy and quite unprofessional. Since then I have vowed to stay completely sober at any and every performance I take part in.
My advice is #1 don't drink! Even if the tab is on the house, or DJ. Another tip, make sure you know the space you are hooping in ahead of time. Practice in the outfit you plan to wear. Get your game face on! It's definitely great being excited about the performance, but don't let it get to your head and psyche you out either. Stretch, a lot! especially right before you perform...it'll help you get your mind into concentration mode.
What qualities in other hoop dance performers do you delight in watching?
I'm a big fan of body twists. I love when people spin and twist their bodies and clench their muscles. The
flow I guess is what I'm talking about...when hoopers look so
completely absorbed into their dancing that it becomes incredibly
apparent through their movements.
I also really really love sustained spinning and isolations! Rich's Isopops are mind bogglingly fantastic and Shakti Sunfire's one handed sustained spinning gives me butterflies. Rainbow Michael has got some pretty sweet isolation tricks with hoops too!
But my hands down, all time favorite is definitely Sharna Rose. Her dancing, her tricks and her positive attitude bring big smiles to my face. Every
time I watch a video of hers I make sure my attention is completely
focused on her because she pulls these "magic tricks" out of no where
and it makes my head spin! I absolutely love that about her. She has the most innovative, breathtaking and baffling moves I've ever seen.
I’ve had lots of fun saying ShpongledHoops, Shpongle feels lovely on the tongue! Tell me about the origins of this name? I’d love some clarification as who Shpongle are? Are they a collective of musicians and yourself? Or do you perform in response to their music primarily?
Shpongle is a wonderful word indeed! :) Shpongle is the name of an ambient/world/alternative electronic music group. The two main people in the group are Simon Posford and Raja Ram. Shpongle is from the Twisted Records label created by Simon Posford and Co. and is based out of the UK.
Their music inspires my creativity in ways nothing else does. Most of my painting and drawings are created during the accompaniment of Shpongle. I have a deep connection to the music...I feel like my personality is well reflected by it.
The word itself originated from Raja Ram. He was asked one early morning after a night of partying in Goa, India, how do you feel? And his response was, I feel Shpongled! The whole story can be viewed here...
do not have any business connections with my favorite musical group,
though I hope to someday, but I just use the word Shpongled to describe
my hoops. They are moved by the Shpongled feeling! :)
Speaking of music I believe your music choice is as mesmerising as your dance. In addition to the music I hear on YouTube that you dance to what else is on your current playlist?
I'm quite open when it comes to music. I listen to a relatively wide variety, but it is predominately electronic music. I also really enjoy World music. Some artists on my list....
and always, ShPoNgLe!
marvel at your amazing physique and wondered if this is all down to
your hooping, how has hooping improved your body, your soul and your
I would definitely attribute the upkeep of my physique to Hoop Dancing. But! I also have always had the tall and skinny body type..I'm about 5 feet 9 inches tall (about 175.3 centimeters). I eat lots of vegetables, grains, nuts and dried fruit.
Hooping has made me much more toned. It also has helped me with my balance and breathing. And because of Hooping, I am much more flexible due to my constant stretching.
Hoop Dancing has played an essential role in the improvement of my soul and well being. It centers my focus and eases my stress. It allows me to release negative energy and gives me a chance to escape certain emotions. It instantly brings me joy! As soon as I feel a hoop roll across my chest and shoulders, I feel grounded and lifted all at the same time! Hoop Dancing (and dancing in general) is the best way for me to lift my spirits and clear my mind.
Do you have any additional movement practices that you engage in to support your hoop dance?
I do! I have been spinning poi for almost a year now. Poi helps me with double hooping...plus I really enjoy it. It's something different, but kind of similar. I find the two crossing over each other in movements...circles and all!
I do a little ribbon dancing too. It's a very interesting type of movement, I'm not very good at it, but it's fun for sure.
seen you hooping with another hoop dancer and am curious as to how best
to approach working as part of a hoop dance collective/troupe? Any tips or suggestion for successful group hooping?
Well the girl that I have made videos with is my house mate, Irina! Last
year, me and some friends got our stuff together and created the Hoop
Dancing Club at our school (The University of Vermont). So a lot of the networking I have done with other hoopers are through the club. I made it into a P.E. Credit, so people could sign up for it as a class and that made networking even more interesting! But, being the president/instructor really enriched my relationships with other people through hooping.
the University I'm not sure if I would have been able to create a Hoop
Group, just in consideration of my access to resources and time. I
think the best way to create a successful hoop troupe is to first find
an ideal location to meet, then branch out by advertising (internet,
flyers, announcements ect) to find people. It
might be good to visit places where you think hoop dancers might go and
put up flyers or go to a yoga or dance class and make an announcement.
I know that you attend very few hoop dance gatherings and wondered if you are able to share why this might be? If
I’m honest I lack the confidence to feel comfortable in the presence of
amazing master hoop dancers whose skills are off the scale amazing and
it renders me into a state of hoop shyness. How do you connect with other hoopers outside of YouTube?
The main reason why I haven't attended any Hoop Gathering events is because of money. I have a very tight budget right now, and my plans have changed around a bit since I started Hoop Dancing. I would love to go to a Hoop Gathering, but most of them are very expensive, and far away.
I also can concur with your feelings about comparison. I
wouldn't say that it is a reason to why I haven't attended any Hoop
Gatherings, but it does come to mind when I think about those things. Hoop
Dancing is a very individualistic activity, and those who are very good
are very comfortable, but those who are still learning, are not so
comfortable, especially around others who are at a higher level. It
can be incredibly intimidating, and I'm not trying to say that those
who are very good are trying to make others feel that way, but it's just
the fact of the matter.
I unfortunately have not been able to connect with many other hoopers outside of Youtube and my Hoop Club. I have met Marria from the Boston Hoop Troupe at a Psytrance Festival I went to in Pennsylvania last summer. She taught me a few tricks and that was pretty fun. Another hooper I have met is a girl by the name of Georgi. She started the Burlington Hoop Troupe, which I was a part of last summer. She was the first to introduce me to fire hooping!
I’m glad to see the presence of male hoop dancers in the USA and although there are some here in the UK there could definitely be a lot more! I
saw a video on YouTube recently that you posted of a warrior style hoop
dance performer from Arseny Knyazev and Gary Johnson, tell me more
about the context of this performance and how you felt seeing two men
rocking it with hoops? (I for one had to pick my jaw up from the floor after being totally amazed by it!)
I absolutely LOVE Gary and Arseny! They are the two most enthusiastic and sexy male hoopers in the Hoop Club. We
had a guest performance with another club at the University and they
allowed us to have more than one performance...So Gary and Arseny made a
duet performance that Rocked the house! I was incredibly impressed with the choreography and synchronicity. They both take Hoop Dancing to a whole new level. The stories behind both of them for their desire to learn is something I think about often. Arseny
and Gary have worked vigorously at the Warrior Style and they teach me
new things all the time! Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that they
have both been only hooping for about 7 months...
Please do share in your hoop aspirations for the coming months, what can your hoopy supporters delight in you doing next? Any plans to cross the waters and perform abroad?
My plan now is to take Hoop Dancing into the realm of Fine Arts. I want to cross over performance art into what we consider as Fine Art (ie. painting, sculpture). I
also want to keep performing for DJs and possibly theater (I just
recently performed in a series of One Acts) because they are fun! I hope to reach out to the Hooping Community and visit other Hoopers. I am going on a cross-country trip next fall for about 4 months and I am going to try and make connections then.
far as crossin' the waters to perform abroad, I definitely would like
to do that at some point, but I got to start small...unless for some
reason Raja Ram and Simon Posford want me to perform at one of their
shows...I am probably not going to make any plans (in the near future)
to perform abroad.
My next stop, New York City!
for some reason you have never seen Mona dance then I encourage you to
head straight to her MySpace page and delight in her amazing abilities
and creative flare, you’ll be very glad you did! Just click here and be transported to ShpongleHoops Land!