Poi originally comes from the Maori people of New Zealand, where it involves a longstanding tradition of music, dance, and singing. Traditional poi are made from natural materials for the cord and ball. The modern practice is significantly different from the traditional. The dances are less structured, the music can be anything we choose, and we have many different types of poi to choose from. It is only a recent development in our modern culture with some of the pioneers dating back to the early 1990s. The earliest records of any kind of fire dance only date back to around 1960. The art of poi is expanding at an ever quickening pace. New moves and techniques are being discovered daily. Partner poi has taken off in the last few years to bring us fresh new choreography. The poi community continues to bring their art and creativity with costumes, themed shows, clever troupe names, theatrical productions and all manner of entertaining phenomenon.
At their core essence, poi are simply weights on a tether that can be swung around the body. Practice poi can be made from socks, string or fabric, with the end weights made from tennis balls, balloons filled with water, juggling balls, and balls filled with grain or sand. Contact poi are a specific type of poi with a sphere on the end that allows for body rolling and manipulation. Glow poi can be made yourself or purchased. Some type of battery powered light, usually LED, is contained in the poi head to create colorful visual effects while spinning. Fire poi are made from metal hardware such as chain and links with a wick that can absorb the fuel. Good wicks are made from material that doesn’t burn at the same rate as the fuel. Most are made from kevlar. If you choose to make your own fire poi instead of buying them, we strongly encourage you to work with someone who has done it before, or find a time tested recipe to work from since any mistakes in construction will put you and others at risk of injury.
Poi length determines what you can do with them. Long poi are good for wrapping around your body. The circles are slower and stay in their planes longer, but they are harder to change direction at will. Short poi open up more freedom of movement and spaces around your body. generally the circles are faster, they are good for crowded areas, and can change planes easily. there is no right length for your poi as it is based on personal preference. Most people prefer use the poi length that can pass under their arm without hitting their torso. Longer poi can also be wrapped around your hands during the dance to achieve the short poi effects.
Poi weight effects how they feel as you spin them. Lighter poi move more quickly. Heavier poi move more slowly and keep planes better but require more strength to spin and can pack quite a wallop if you get in their way. Most spinners agree that you want the weight focused at the end and not in the cord. Experiment with the weights to find the perfect middle ground that you want.
Handles connect the poi and string to your body. They come in many styles. the three most common are single loop, double loop, and a knob handle. single loop can slide over your wrist, but maximum control and comfort is achieved by pinching the handle with your index and middle fingers while your palm up then folding the loop down over these two fingers. This forms a connection that tightens as you spin and is unlikely to slide off. Double loop is designed to be easy to slip your fingers into intuitively. You still get the enhanced wrist control of a finger loop, but gain the ability to take the poi off your hand as you spin for a toss or one handed move for example. The trade-off is that these handles can sometimes slide off your fingers when you don’t want them to causing anything from an annoyance to a safety hazard. Knob handles are designed to be held. there are many grips that can be used leading to a variety of techniques as well as the freedom to incorporate lots of tosses, passes between hands or partners and other innovative maneuvers.
Poi can be learned on your own through experimentation, but there are a lot of resources that can get you there faster and easier. There are forums online and several dvds for sale. Best of all is that there are people all over the world learning and sharing their knowledge together.
Please share your flow arts knowledge with #flartsdiscoveries
Poppe hails from Bloomington, IN where she is an active member in the flow arts community through helping to organize local events, choreograph routines, perform, teach, and mentor.
When she isn't spinning a prop or doing acrobatics, she does web design and development, social media, and content strategy. She hopes to use these skills to help elevate flow artists, the community, and the craft.