The History of Fire Poi
Poi refers to both a style of performing art and the equipment used for engaging in poi performance. As a performance art, poi involves swinging tethered weights through a variety of rhythmical and geometric patterns. Poi artists may also sing or dance while swinging their poi. Poi can be made from various materials with different handles, weights, and effects (such as fire).
In most instances Poi have evolved from swinging weapons. The word "Poi" is the name given to this art form by the Maori people of New Zealand. "Poi" is the Maori word for "ball" on a cord. The Poi was used, many years ago, to increase flexibility and strength in their hands and arms as well as improving coordination.
From its beginnings Poi had the purpose of enhancing dance and rhythm. It was soon realized that Poi swinging had several other benefits from wrist strength, flexibility and improving co-ordination. Wahine (female) dancers perform the Maori Poi, a dance performed with balls attached to flax strings and swung in a rhythmic fashion. The Poi, a training aid, were originally used by the Maori women for keeping their hands flexible for weaving and by the men for strength and coordination required during battle.
Modern poi coexists with traditional Maori poi and enjoys a broader, worldwide audience. Traditional Maori poi is generally performed in group choreography at cultural events, with vocal and musical accompaniment. By contrast, modern poi is generally performed by individuals, without singing and with less structured choreography. The tools and styles used are more varied. Many people first encounter poi in the form of fire spinning, but fire spinning is just one form of this highly varied art.
Modern poi borrows significantly from other physical arts, including various schools of dance and many object manipulation arts. Poi is practiced around the world and can often be seen at large festivals like Burning Man, European Juggling Convention, and the Fire Dance Expo held annually during the US National Dance Week in San Francisco.