Poi: Playing with Fire

Triquetra                    Photo taken by               Isiac Ramirez

It began in the drug filled years of my teens. A few friends introduced glow sticks and ever since then I became fascinated with dancing with the luminescent objects. Evolution took its tole and eventually we attached ropes to them. At that moment, the beautiful lights became dangerous.

With vague memories of the previous night, I would wake up with bruises all over my body. Apparently, the beautiful display of lights results into self-mutilation the following day and rants from my friends who would tell me I would hit everything around me with spiraling glow sticks. It took me years to learn my lesson.

In 2010, I attended a camping trip with some friends at an event called Art Outside. The idea of dancing with fire was a familiar thing, but I never realized it was the exact same display of art. The major difference was that the artisan in between the flames or glow sticks was calm and collected. They knew exactly where the fire is and how to direct it. If it was me, I would’ve been on fire.

My fascination immediately ignited into a new passion; I had to spin fire.

The light show bonanza is called poi. It originated in New Zealand from the indigenous tribe, the Maori, and that’s as far as I know about the history. Modern poi has taken their traditions and has been used with just about anything. You can use two socks with rice inside, tennis balls on strings, a rock, or whatever your imagination can combine with two ropes and two objects to spin around your body.

After Art Outside, I would spend time everyday with two tube socks and a bag of rice in each of them. The self-mutilation continued for a while and has slowly become a memory of the past. With each day, I would learn new tricks and techniques until I refined my own style. My progress in displaying poi also shifted the mental state of my initial fascination.

The want to spin fire changed into the desire to tame myself. Although the display for the public are spiraling meteors that twirl around your body, the dancer themselves don’t see the same display. The heat is more present to us than the show. To tame the element of fire required that a person first becomes conscious and aware of themselves and their surroundings. The last thing any fire dancer wants is to hit anybody or to change a tame fire into an uncontrollable flame.

The progression of the fire arts continued to transition who I am. Controlling my mind allowed me to think through my actions more thoroughly and realize how the poi was flowing from internal ideas into the reality of spinning flames. From that idea, poi translated into the co-creation of moving abstract thoughts into a particular direction in the material world; synonymous to moving my arms to direct the fire around my body.

And so, I realized it is the same with many if not all of the arts.
Tame the mind to co-create your ideas with the elements of the universe, otherwise, you may be playing with fire.