If you have found yourself reading this you have more than likely asked yourself the question “What is poi?” or maybe you just wanted to find out a little bit more of the history side of things, well either way i think that this is a really good question, for me to answer this you must first know that poi can refer to both the performance art itself or the tools needed for involvement of the practice, Poi is taking the world by storm for being its own unique and elegant performed art form, poi generally consists of swinging a pair of tethered weights through an assortment of rhythmical and geometric patterns but to be honest it’s so much more than i can put into words.
Proven to of originated from the Maori people of New Zealand, Poi is still something widely practised there today, In the actual Maori language, poi can either mean the objects used by the dancers, the choreography of the movement or even the accompanying music. In old Maori culture, a poi performance is something that was normally associated with women, who used it as both and art form and relaxation technique but even more so practical as to help them transfer the skills for weaving.
If you believe the legends of old it was in fact first the men of the Maori tribes who used it, not only to strengthen their body’s but also their minds as these essential skills were an excellent way of preparing for any possible upcoming battles the tribes may have had to face – Recent academic studies however have so far found no supporting evidence of this, which has resulted in some ongoing debates amongst the modern & traditional poi community.
Traditional poi themselves were hand crafted by stripping down and weaving together native plants of the area. They were also made in to either, long poi having strings equal to the length of your fingertips to your shoulder-blade or short poi having strings equal to the length of your fingertips to your wrist. The poi generally did differ in construction & design being affected depending on the tribe, regional area and also personal preference.
Most native performances using poi include the telling of a story via song, the actual choreographed movement of the poi spinning and are also often presented alongside with many other practised disciplines such as ancestral war cry’s.
Poi over the years has gained quite a large following world-wide and with this being said the development of poi culture has led to a substantial evolution of the styles now practised and even the tools used, enjoying a much broader spectrum of possibilities modern poi still perfectly coexists with some principles of traditional poi.
Unlike the traditional poi performers, modern poi artist’s do tend to spin individually and do not tend to act, dance or sing at the same time. Although there are many well-known poi artist’s out there who are trying to bring back some of the values and aspects traditional poi holds so as to incorporate them with modern poi performances, by promoting things like group spins and even holding poi retreats the world of poi is always evolving.
Many people first encounter poi in the alluring form of fire spinning, but fire spinning is just one element of this highly varied art, Modern poi borrows significantly from many other physical arts such as object manipulation and modern dance, Poi is regarded to be a state of flow and mediation as well as a performance and is now practised by thousands all around the world and can often be seen at raves, events and other festivals.
Unlike so many other physical arts, learning poi does not usually involve any kind of formal education but as mentioned earlier there are some that hold workshops and retreats where you may learn this art. Since the rise of the internet most spinners now learn from others online by visiting websites such as our own or by watching instructional video’s and DVDs.
Thanks to the internet there is now a stronger sense of community and self-teaching when it comes to that of modern poi, it has directly fuelled the popularity of modern poi by helping people around the world learn about it or even discover it for the first time, with the advances in technology amongst other things, today’s poi are created using a source of much more varied materials resulting in better durability, effects and popularity.
Poi artist’s everyday are pushing the boundaries and bringing us awesome performances and better yet video, most spinners as us speak about finding healing properties to spinning poi, bringing a sense of inner peace at least for a short while, using spinning as a form of meditation and training has benefited thousands and that’s why we think this art will continue to flourish.
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