Ali Padiak is a circus performer who specializes in hulahoop arts. She started hulahooping after seeing some women dancing with hoops at a music festival she attended when she was 18. She now performs with the Rainbow Circus in Miami, as well as being an instructor at Kids Choice Sports, Dance, & Fitness. Her circus training has since extended to other spin arts. You can find her on Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram (@alihoopmama).
Kirsten Aucoin: What was it about hulahooping that grabbed your attention?
Ali Padiak: One, I did not even know that it existed. I had never seen anyone do what the girls were doing with the hoops before, and I was just completely captivated and mesmerized that they were doing all of these illusion-like tricks with the hulahoop. I was like 'wow—you can do that with a hulahoop?' because, at the time, all I knew about hulahooping was waist hulahooping from as a child. So, that's what really captivated me, that they were just moving so elegantly and beautifully with these hoops. I was never a dancer or a gymnast or anything like that. I actually don't have a musical dancing bone in my body. I didn't even think I could do anything that they were doing, but I was like 'okay I have to give it a try—I just really want to try it,' because they looked like they were having so much fun. What I did...I saw a girl at the festival at the time, and she had a whole bunch on her shoulder, and it looked like she was selling them. I asked, 'oh I will buy one right now. I just want to try it.' That was when I bought my first hoop. It was probably twenty minutes after I saw it.
KA: After that, did you self-teach, watch videos online, or did you find classes?
AP: I started in 2010 and it was so new to that time that I had never seen it, so I didn't think that there were classes. When I got home, I just Youtubed videos and I would just hang out in my backyard and practice them, and slow the videos down to really see how the trick was done, and so I was completely self-taught.
KA: How did you end up involved with the Rainbow Circus?
AP: I moved down to Florida from Chicago in 2015, so I had already been hulahooping for about five or six years at that point, and I actually had my own hulahooping company. I started up a hulahoop making company on Etsy, and that sustained me from 2011 all the way until 2017.
KA: I was going to ask—Do you live entirely off of circus arts?
AP: Kind of. I do the circus gigs on the weekends—that's my weekend job—and then, during the week, I actually teach. I work at a children's gymnastics facility and we have a bunch of different other programs there, like dance classes and karate, and then they actually hired me just as a desk person and when they found out what I did, they were like 'You have to start a hulahoop class here! We would love it.' So, I actually do teach hulahoop tricks to kids ages 7 to 10 on Mondays and Wednesdays at the gym.
KA: How do you find kids, in comparison to adults, with different challenges in teaching?
AP: I do. I find with kids...and I don't like to do ages below seven, just because they can't really grasp it yet, but once they hit about seven/eight years old, they already know how to waist hulahoop and kind of understand how it's working with your body. I find that teaching adults is a lot harder, because they haven't done it in so many years. But, yeah, the kids are like sponges. They pick stuff up that took me years to get down in minutes.
KA: How has your family and old friends reacted to you getting into this? Have you gotten any of them involved with circus skills?
AP: Actually, after I found hulahooping, that kind of brought me into—or opened my eyes to all the other different types of circus arts, such as aerial silks and juggling and stilt walking and hand balancing... And, again, I was self-taught on most of that as well. But I did it all with the safest precautions possible. I've been juggling and doing rolla bolla, which is like that balance board on the one wheel. I've been doing that since I was nine, and my parents would joke that I'd run away and join a circus one day. So when I decided to move to Florida, and then I got in touch with Rainbow Circus, my parents loved to joke around and tell all our friends and family that 'Ali ran away and joined the circus!' It was kind of predicted as a kid. I was never shy as a child. I was always the talkative kid and dancing, putting on shows... It's always been in my blood to perform.
KA: Out of the different circus arts, have you found one that has felt like the most challenging to you?
AP: The most challenging that I have attempted, but haven't really pursued, is probably fear wheel. Fear wheel and unicycle—those are definitely one of the hardest ones that I have attempted. I picked up stilt walking pretty quickly and I was actually fairly surprised at the aerial silks as well, because I didn't think that I had the upper body strength to do that, but I was actually—I surprised myself at that one. I love aerial silks. Silks are definitely my favorite out of any of the aerial apparatus.
KA: And it's gorgeous to watch.
AP: I know! It's the funnest way to stay in shape too. I am in better shape now than I was 10 years ago, in high school.
KA: Do you have any circus groups or people that you look up to?
AP: I actually try to see as many circus shows, when they're in town and such. Me and my circus coworkers all get together, and we'll all go see a show. Sometimes... We used to have a big warehouse that we'd train at once a week, down in Miami, but unfortunately that closed about a year ago. But whenever any Cirque Du Soleil performers were in town, like in Miami, they would actually come train at our facility with us. Which was pretty cool, to actually meet them and kind of pick their brain a little bit.”
KA: That sounds really cool! Do you have a biggest obstacle you've faced, in regards to hulahooping?
AP: My biggest obstacle in hulahooping... I would say training new multiple-hoop tricks, having my off days, and feeling like I'm just an 'Average Joe'—and then I have to take a step back and be like 'Ali, you're spinning seven hulahoops.' Another thing would be...I don't know. I don't really have too much. There's not a whole lot of competition, which is what I really like about the troupe that I'm with. I was really scared that they were going to kind of be cold shouldered and 'that's my competition.' But they were actually open arms and welcoming and they were sharing all of their makeup secrets with me and the stretching secrets and so we're actually like a huge big family. That's one thing that I'm just absolutely thankful for—that it's not a competition and that we are here for each other.
KA: How have you felt about the general spin arts community?
AP: I really do love the flow arts community. I try to get to as many flow festivals as possible. I actually did just recently teach at Florida Flow Fest, three weeks ago, which was down in Fort Lauderdale. It's just so much fun to connect with a lot of the other flow artists that live, you know, on the other side of the country that you only talk to on social media, and then when you actually get to spin with them and hang out with them and connect with them...That's what really makes everything worthwhile.
KA: Do you have any big events of festivals that you have planned for upcoming months?
AP: I actually cut off my festival going-ness after joining the troupe, because I wanted to focus more on it professionally. I still try to make it to Suwannee's Hulaween every Halloween, because that's just about a few hours north of me, in Suwannee. That is one that I do try to make it to every year, that I just go for for fun.
KA: Do you have any specific goals for this year? Tricks you're trying to get down or anything like that?
AP: Yes, I currently am working with six hoops comfortably, and I am training new transitions and tricks with seven.
KA: Are there a lot of tricks you can do with that many?
AP: I would say maybe a handful—under 10 tricks—that you can do with that many. The hardest thing I find with working with that many hoops is smoothly transitioning from one thing to the next. Which is also my other thing that I'm working on—just trying to transition with that many hoops and making it kind of flow together.”
KA: What advice would you give someone who was interested in learning how to hulahoop and in getting involved with that community?
AP: I would suggest getting a big weighted hulahoop so that you can get the basics down. The bigger and heavier the hulahoop, the easier it is. The smaller and lighter, the harder the hulahoop will be, because it has to spin faster. I would also say don't give up! You know, the more your hoop drops, the more you are progressing. You just got to pick it back up and just keep going. Even after eight and a half years of every day hulahooping, I'm still figuring out new tricks and transitions and shapes, so it's a never ending possibility almost.”