What is Poi?
Take a tennis ball and tie a string around it. Hold the other end of the string in your hand (or loop it around a finger) and spin the tennis ball around you in circles. Now make a second and put that in your other hand and spin both at the same time. Now you’ve officially tried modern poi. Congrats!
Poi is a performance art created by the Māori of New Zealand. The word ‘poi’ is Māori for ‘ball,’ and while there are many Māori words related to poi, I don’t think the typical poi hobbyist knows more than just ‘poi’ (though I personally would love to be part of a kapa haka). The Māori of New Zealand also were not the only ones to come up with a “ball on a string” idea. Look at things like Bola, Indian Clubs and Chinese Meteors. Yet the word poi is Māori, and though modern poi is drastically different from traditional Māori poi, much of the ‘poi heritage’ resides with the Māori.
The tennis ball on a string is a very common beginner’s practice poi. If you visit any poi-selling website (Home of Poi, for example), you’ll likely find any of the following poi:
- Fabric poi, including but not limited to the ‘fuzzy ball on a string,’ the comet or ‘ball with a tail on it,’ flag poi, even sock and cone poi (sock poi is exactly how it sounds)
- LED poi, from LED orbs to glow-stick-like shapes, sometimes changing colors, sometimes steady colors, and some with light settings to change how it blinks
- Fire poi, the most dangerous and probably the most fascinating to watch, the traditional ‘ball on a string,’ only now that ball is on fire
There are variations of these depending on shape, size, and color. Yes, color even applies to the fire poi. You can also change what ‘string’ to use, usually either nylon cord or a chain. The part you hold can be drastically different, as well. Usually there is one or two loops for you to put your finger(s) through, but sometimes there is a handle or a ball. The handles and balls are good if you toss, and if you have LED poi, Flowtoys’ flowlight handles are always an option. There is no strict convention for any of this, as it’s mostly whatever works for you, the spinner.
If you’re a beginner, stick with those tennis balls for a bit, then maybe head to fabric poi of some sort (I do not suggest flag poi if you live somewhere windy). While most fabric poi glows well under a black light, LED poi looks great in any dark area, but can be a bit harsh for a beginner. Why’s that? Because a beginner will hit him/herself with the poi… a lot! If you’re going to start with LED poi, start with Oggpoi, they’re pretty, rechargeable, and soft.
And just don’t start with fire poi.
Seriously, don’t do it.