“You are only limited by your imagination”
A performance sensation is sweeping the world… Well, at least the laid-back, hippy-filled portions of it. Poi and all of it’s related counterparts, whether fire or glow related, has been steadily creeping its way into the mainstream. Inspired by many cultures and constantly evolving, it is generally believed that the origins of poi are from New Zealand, the word itself being a Maori term for a ball on a cord. Far more than simply just that, poi spinning itself is fast becoming an awe-inspiring technique dominating edgy, free spirited events globally.
In 2008 I experienced local fire shows in both Thailand and Fiji, meeting performers afterwards who were intriguing yet reeking of paraffin. In the Thai party island of Ko Phi Phi, we chatted with an eccentric fire breather/spinner doting a cowboy hat and interesting collection of colourful clothing, and by ‘chatted’ I mean I had no idea what he was saying, a hint on why this was so was perhaps given away by the size of his pupils. Still, it was a mesmerising display which we enjoyed soberly! A few years later, an American guy I met travelling through Nicargua, upon hearing that I had a set of poi in my bag, asked if I did LSD, as that was the general association. I don’t, but I can see why those that do are attracted to the shiny, bright colours and pretty patterns of the glow poi, and the enhancement of fast moving fire… like a moth to a flame.
I’ve already written about my first experiences of learning poi on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, in the tiny town of Montezuma, which you can check out here (sift through the ramblings about surfing and dogs first). In this sunny gem of a beach town, weekly fire shows attract inspired travelers, and many keen enthusiasts come to learn from lessons at La Escuela del Sol, or at yearly workshops with the attendance of some of the best spinners in the world. What first starts as being knocked in the face (and other sensitive areas of the body!) with tennis balls in a long pair of socks, with some patience and practice can fast become an addictive and impressive hobby.
Poi seemed to complement surfing well, helping tone and stretch the arms ready for paddling out, whilst also giving an elemental balance between fire and water. Having always been a water baby, with connections with air and earth, I never really felt an association with the powerful fire element until now (okay I can almost here those who dislike anything spiritual clicking the ‘X’ in the corner of the screen….). There is a real energy and balance about it all. The fresh air, green forest, lapping shore and fire spinning on a beach? This is what it’s all about. After three weeks bashing myself in the face with a tennis ball in a sock, I was spinning fire – actual fire – in front of a whole town of tourists and locals alike. This was alongside very talented and experienced performers like Maria:
But it was amazing. The sound of drums and fire streaming past your ears – there’s nothing quite like it. My performance may not have been as impressive as, say, the guy who combined his moves with the Brazillian Martial art dance of Capoeira, but hey, I had fun and didn’t set myself on fire, so I call that a success!
Taking it back to the little British rock that I call home, I discovered it was already there, and is spreading across our tiny island quite rapidly. There is quite a juxtaposition of suited finance workers and boho surfers here; accountants with VW camper vans and deadlocked free spirits working in offices 9-5. It’s almost impossible to make a living here on surf or spinning fire (though a few people are living that dream), but there are a growing number of fire performers taking events, weddings, festivals and even the streets by storm. At the moment, it’s different and edgy, and hopefully not just a fad. Unfortunately, as will all talents, you do get the Prima Donnas; people who think they are better than others because they have a particular set of skills they happen to do quite well. Let’s just hope that sticks to the minority. I’m no pro, and personally have so much more to learn from spinning, and will continue to develop these skills and learn new moves. It’s not about showing off, it’s about enjoying yourself and being in the moment. Having performed fire and glow poi at a few events, even on the beach with friends, it’s amazing to see how people react to it, as if they’re mesmerised. That’s what it’s all about. Speaking of which, I recently discovered Lindsey Stirling, a talented violinist whose dubstep beats and enchanting sounds make a perfect poi companion:
And there is a whole new world of related pursuits which wouldn’t look out of place at Cirque du Soleil… fire staff, fire breathing, fire juggling. A friend I learned poi with has now taken it back to Montana, where she has impressively made her own fire hoop.
Poi can even be combined with other dance styles, and is not restricted to the night time. As a group of us regularly perform Bollywood/Bhangra dance, I added a bit of veil poi to set off our routines. Getting popular with Belly dance/Bollywood dancers, this form of poi really settles in well with the exotic, hypnotic styles. The idea is pretty much the same, though some moves will have to have larger sweeping motions lest you be trapped and wrapped in a colourful mess of veils! I simply cut some strips of fabric to match the outfit, and tied them to some basic poi, and voila – poi for the daytime!
Besides (hopefully) putting on a great show, learning these skills is good for keeping fit and toning up, particularity for the upper arms, meeting new and interesting people, as well as aiding with stamina and boosting brain power. Well, unless you’re on one of those drugs…
For more information, online tutorials, or to buy any related items, here’s your one stop shop: Home of Poi Website (where the “You are only limited by your imagination” quote derives from).
Enjoy, dream and discover 🙂