Poi (juggling)

Poi (juggling)


In Maori culture, the discipline of poi evolved into a traditional performance art practiced mostly by women. This art includes storytelling and singing choreographed to poi routines, and developed in conjunction with others disciplines -such as "waiata a ringa", haka and "titi torea"- included in kapa haka performances.Fact|date=November 2007 Contemporary poi has built upon the Māori discipline and is now a combination of spinning arts from around the world.Fact|date=November 2007

Modern poi

Poi spinning has grown beyond the scope of the originating Māori culture, and is enjoyed worldwide as a hobby, exercise, or performance art. Poi dancers may be found performing alongside jugglers, staff spinners, and other similar performers.

Practice poi

Initiates often first employ a simple pair of practice poi: these are usually constructed from something soft, in order to lessen the effect of impact- rolled up socks, bean bags or small soft toys, plastic grocery bags filled with crumpled tissue paper or synthetic stuffing. Typically, poi spinners start out with simple moves, gradually learning to involve more complexity. Many find it helpful to practice spinning their poi to music in order to keep a smooth cadence or rhythm.

Performance poi

Performers often employ brightly colored, contrasting poi to distinguish their performance, enhance aesthetic, and emphasize pattern; tails and streamers attached to the poi further these aims.

Glow poi/ Glowsticking

Poi performance may be undertaken in darkness to dramatic effect when poi include a light source -such as UV-sensitive materials, LED lights, or chemical glow sticks. Glowstringing, similar to poi, uses glowsticks swung from shoelaces. Glowstringing is popular at festivals and raves.

Fire poi

or a similar household fuel is used - as gasoline burns too quickly for either safety or performance longevity and is much more toxic it is generally avoided where other options are available but is still popular in poorer countries. Likewise alcohol and lighter fluid are considered too dangerous and not sufficiently long lasting due to their low flash point and volatility.

Fire performances can be interesting for both audience and performer, provided the poi spinner is good enough that they can control the fire poi without putting anyone (particularly themselves) at risk.

Many kinds of fire poi are available, the simplest utilizing two wicks. The fire wicks are generally one of three varieties: a cylindrical wrap, cathedral stack (square) or a monkey fist knot tied with kevlar blend rope. Some experienced performers like to pick and choose their wicks, according to the performance they intend to give - controlling their burn time and the brightness of the flames. More advanced fire poi can have multiple wicks.

A variation called "fire snakes" (sometimes referred to as "Fire Ropes") consists of a length of kevlar blend rope that can produce a long flame. These can look stunning when used by a skilled performer, resulting in them being surrounded by sheets of flame.

Poi tricks

Poi has become known among a few communities. As with many subculture sports and pastimes, poi spinners often spend hours mastering their tricks.

Some popular poi tricks include: reels, weaves, fountains, crossers, windmills, butterflies, stalls, and wraps.

Split time and split direction moves are possible, and some of the more difficult moves require a considerable amount of manual dexterity, coordination and forearm strength to accomplish.

There are several basic classes of trick. The two poi are usually spun in parallel planes, and can be spun in the same direction (weaves) or opposite directions (butterflies). Moves such as stalls and wraps can change direction of one (or both poi) to change between these two classes.


Weaves are a class of trick based around the "basic weave". Considered by many poi swingers to be one of the staple moves, the basic (two-beat) weave is often one of the first tricks learned. The basic weave is called "two-beat" because each poi spins twice times in a cycle: once each side of the body. Reverse weaves, behind the back weaves, and 3-beat, 4-beat, 5-beat, 7-beat, 9-beat, 12-beat and other weaves are also possible.


The butterfly is a simple trick in which the hands are held close together in front of the spinner and the poi spin in opposite directions flat to the spinner, so that the poi cross at the top and bottom of their circles. This move can be done behind the head, behind the back and extended to any number of moves; there are as many variations on the butterfly possible as there are for the weave, including polyrhythms and hybrids. Some skilled performers perform this with 4 poi (two in each hand) to execute a double butterfly, a move also executed with meteor. A few practitioners do this with 6 poi balls so that a third one-footed butterfly can be performed with the other foot. However, the majority of poi performers consider such a trick to have no real use, as there's no real way for the performer to use such a thing as part of a dance whilst keeping the fluidity of movement intact.


A wrap is a move where one or both poi are wrapped around something, most typically part of the body, to change the path or direction of spin. There are two types of wr


Flowers are a visually impressive set of moves in which the poi spinner fully extends their arms and moves them in circles around the body while spinning the poi. When done in time this gives rise to a series of loops around a large circle, which look like the petals of a flower when viewed from the side. Flowers are sometimes called compound circles.

Further tricks

Isolations refer to a class of moves where the poi handle is also spun in a circle. "Perfect" isolation occurs when the poi handle and poi are moving in the same circle, and can usually create distinctive synchronised moves (e.g. cranks). Hyperloops are where the poi ropes becomes entangled (twisted up) and then untangled, keeping the ends spinning the entire time. Advanced spinners are also able to spin their moves in places such as behind the back and under the leg.

Poi construction

Many poi spinners, amateur and professional alike, prefer to create their own poi. A simple pair of practice poi require little more than a pair of socks and a couple of tennis balls. More impressive poi can be made from a multitude of different materials. Kite cords are lightweight and readily available. Chain is a more durable alternative to regular cord. Ball chains can rotate freely so as to prevent tangling, and metal cables can make for extremely fast poi. Long socks can also be used with a weight in one end and a knot in the other. More advanced spinners may add a weight to the handle, in order to improve their ability to perform advanced techniques (such as throws and contact poi).

Kevlar blend wicks and a variety of poi heads can be bought either from juggling shops or online, and a number of different kinds of hand grip are available too. This way a performer can customise their poi to suit their own personal preference.


Depending on their construction, poi can strike the user (or bystanders) with enough force to cause bruising or minor injury. Metal parts on fire poi have a high heat transfer coefficient and may burn on contact; the wick has a lower coefficient and is less likely to cause burns directly -but can spray or spread fuel. Costumes from non-flammable materials, such as cotton or leather, are preferred when employing fire poi; synthetic fibers tend to melt when burned, resulting in severe burns to the wearer.

Fire poi use requires a safety regime to address the risks of setting fire to the user, bystanders, or the surroundings. Typical elements of such a regimen include a sober, rested, and alert spotter who has access to a ABC Dry Chemical fire extinguisher (for putting out material and fuel fires- water based extinguishers have the ability to spread oil fires), a damp towel or woolen/duvetyne fire retardant blanket (for extinguishing burning clothes and fire toys), and a bucket of water (for the eventuality of out of control fires). A metal container -located far from the performance area- that can quickly be sealed (so as to be airtight) is used as a fuel dump; with the lid in place, fuel fires may be extinguished. Paint cans are commonly used for this purpose.

See also

*Poi tricks
*Fire dancing
*Circus skills


Further reading

* Shennan, Jennifer & McLean, Mervyn (September 1979). [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0014-1836(197909)23%3A3%3C493%3AROY%22DS%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Z Remarks on Youngerman's "Maori Dancing since the Eighteenth Century"] . "Ethnomusicology" 23 (3), pp. 493–499.
* Youngerman, Suzanne (January 1974). [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0014-1836(197401)18%3A1%3C75%3AMDSTEC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Q Maori Dancing since the Eighteenth Century] . "Ethnomusicology" 18 (1), pp. 75–100.

External links

* [http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/search.aspx?advanced=colOnlineTitle%3a%22poi%22+colCollectionGroup%3aCH&imagesonly=on Poi in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa]
* [http://www.maori.org.nz/waiata/?d=page&pid=sp103&parent=86/ Maori.org.nz] Traditional Māori poi performance
* [http://www.drama.org.nz/ejournal.asp?ID=2 Research in New Zealand Performing Arts] - a free online research journal that discusses Maori music and related performing
* [http://www.poipoi.info/tuition/ Poi Tuition] Videos demonstrating the basic planes of movement with written instructions.

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