The long and warm summer evenings are upon us. To make the most out of this weather, we have been down the beach to practise our poi spinning, hoop and slack lining skills.
What is Poi?
Poi spinning is a dance based performance. The set of poi are used as a prop to create visual patterns. They become an extension to the movements of the body and accentuate each move. The ‘poi’ is a weight attached to a cord or tether. The weight is swung in a combination of circles, loops and arcs to create patterns. These are greatly enhanced and most visible when the poi heads are on fire or made out of colourful LEDs.
I first discovered spinning poi about ten years ago when I met my partner, Steve. Since I first started spinning, it has exploded in popularity and has developed into many styles.
Poi originates from Maori culture and is traditionally performed by groups of women. This is accompanied by traditional songs and dance routines, whilst swinging the poi in unison. The poi strings are much shorter than contemporary poi. Simple shapes and patterns are created and repeated throughout the dance routine.
Dancing with the poi is the most spontaneous form of spinning that I know of. This is my favourite way to spin, and it feels like a form of moving meditation. No thinking is required, the spinner just goes with what feels good. This is often referred to as ‘flow’ and hence the term ‘flow arts’ is also used to refer to poi other forms of object manipulation.
Tech spinning requires less whole body movement than poi dancing. So tech spinners tend to be more stationary. The movement is predominantly in the upper body, especially in the arms and shoulders. Tech spinners focus upon more intricate and complicated interactions with the poi heads and play with timing and direction, more purposefully. This video by Russian spinner Ivan [Mel] Gorbunov, was my first introduction to tech spinning.
Contact Poi and Poi Juggling (Poi-ggling)
Contact poi is really a hybrid between poi spinning and contact juggling. Therefore, practise contact balls, are attached to a thicker tether and weighted handles are used to act as a counter weight. This slows the poi down when thrown. It provides the spinners with an opportunity to ‘bounce’ the poi off their body.
Typically, other forms of poi spinning use a pair of poi. However, many contact spinners like to use three poi heads because this enables them to juggle with the poi as well. Traditional poi moves have been adapted and combined. This has created tricks that require the poi heads to interact with the body. This includes rolling the poi across parts of the body, like contact juggling as demonstrated in this Keith Marshall poi video.
Partner poi is all about sharing the fun. A pair or group of spinners dance and move together as their bodies and poi interact with each other. Therefore, new moves and patterns are created in this form of spinning. German based poi performance group Loooop are masters in creating playful and visually stunning partner poi routines.
Spinning with Fire
The addition of fire flames certainly brings a magical element to the audience when watching fire spinning. The trailing fire, enhances the patterns created by the poi spinner. The moving flames roar as swing through the air. This sound emphasis the danger element of fire spinning.
Like fire spinning, glow poi are great for spinning with at night and outside. The light trails momentarily capture the patterns created by the poi heads. In recent years, LED technology has greatly advanced. A poi performer can now programme the colours and sequences of the LEDs in their poi to correspond to a track of music. The technology created by Apixel Toys can also create photographic images as seen in this photographic stills video by Japanese spinner Yuta.
Timing and Direction
To really make the most out of spinning a set of poi, the spinner should understand how to change the timing and direction of the poi heads. This knowledge helps to access advanced moves and tricks. This video by American multi-prop manipulator Noel Yee explains the concept in more detail.
Sharing Knowledge and Expansion of Poi
The poi community has expanded due to the rise of internet forums. The popularity of YouTube, has helped to rapidly grow the knowledge base. This has enabled poi spinners to share and discover new tricks and styles of poi. It will be interesting to see where this sharing of knowledge takes poi spinning over the next couple of years.