Soolah Hoops

Fire and hoop dancer Sue Kemp performs under the name Soolah Hoops. Pictured above, she helps to light up Carroll Creek Way in downtown Frederick at a First Saturday event in 2012.

Soolah Hoops puts one foot ahead of the other, right over left, and closes her eyes. She rocks her stomach forward, then backward, keeping her arms straight out to avoid stopping the pink polypropylene tube that’s spinning around her belly.

There’s electro-swing pulse playing in the background. When the beat picks up, she matches the pace with her stomach. The hoop is spinning so fast it looks like a blush mirage, and it quickly rises up her chest to her neck, and around her right arm. When the beat stops, the hoop slides down to her side, and she opens her eyes.

“I look out over the crowd,” she said. “And I hope to see joy on people’s faces. That’s why I do this.”

Hoops has spent the last eight years learning the joy of hula hooping. Now she’d like to share that joy with you. What started off as a curious side hobby has grown into a full business,, where she makes her own hula hoops for sale, teaches classes and performs around the country regularly.

“She’s phenomenal,” said Jenifer Nicodemus, 46, of Frederick, who has taken several classes under Hoops. “She just makes it so interesting and easy to learn. I can’t think of anyone better.”

From hobby to career

Sue Kemp picked up her first hula hoop in 2007. At the time, her and a group of friends were learning Reiki, a Japanese technique of stress reduction that involves spreading energy through movement. At their meetings, members would bring in a hoop. One person would stand in the middle of a room hooping while the others formed a circle around them, capturing energy from the hooper.

“It was meditative,” Kemp said. “It was just this way of feeding off the energy of others.”

But Kemp says she put down the hoop for about a year, having lost herself in the day-to-day rigors of life. It wasn’t until she grew an interest in playing with fire that she considered picking up the hobby again.

According to Kemp, she would attend festivals and watch male performers swinging around tools such as a Poi, a chain-link with wicks lit on both ends. The performers would swing the chain ferociously. She was entranced by the flames, she said, but worried the tool could harm her if she tried it herself.

Then she saw a woman perform with a flame-lit hula hoop.

“There was something more feminine about it,” she said.“She was just happy in her space, doing what she was doing, sharing what she was sharing.”

A hula hoop offered her an element of grace, she said. It also kept the flames away from her face.

Within months, she began performing for people, wearing a hula hoop with kevlar wicks attached. A security spotter would dip the wicks in fuel, light them, and a ring of fire was spinning around her waste.

She spent her every free moment teaching herself new tricks and performing for the public. She adopted the stage name Soolah Hoops. The interest she gathered made her to want to teach others.

She soon brought in enough money to drop her graphic design job and make hula hooping her full-time business.

“I started showing people on the streets how to do it and it was like people were actually moving together, and laughing together, playing together,” she said. “The business really evolved naturally out of people just wanting to be a part of it.”

Nicodemus said she first saw Hoops helping others learn to hoop at Frederick’s Cabin Fever Festival in 2011.

“I just saw her doing all these cool things and I thought ‘I wan’t to do that,” she said.

Nicodemus said she’s taken a fitness class, two-beginner hoop classes and a dance meditation class under Hoops. In that time, she’s seen her hooping, and her stress levels improve.

“She just taught me, ‘Just close your yes, stop watching your body and really feel the space,’” she said. “I can’t sit and meditate. I’ve tried. But, with a hoop, I’m just in it.”

Hoops is now selling hula hoops that she makes on her own out of either polypropylene or high-density polyethylene plastic. She offers beginning and advanced classes for adults and children, as well as courses for meditation and dance. She performs summer camps, festivals and demonstrations.

“I have to say, it totally changed my life,” she said. “I never thought this is what I’d be doing for a living.”

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