Swing time

A day of many mood swings; lots of ups and downs. Tonight after dinner, got mopey and stressed, but Kam was soothing, and we got to talking about poi. Not the food; the ball on a string.

For those unfamiliar with the idea, it basically consists of a string with a ball (maybe tennis-ball-sized) at one end, and you swing it around and make pretty patterns. Oh, and usually you're swinging two of them at once (one from each hand), and if you know what you're doing, both of the balls are on fire. This is known as firespinning or firedancing.

Kam and Gerry had shown me some video clips and stills of the firespinners/firedancers at Burning Man last summer, and I thought it looked mighty cool, but I hadn't quite seen the appeal of actually doing it. K and G had both picked up practice poi (the kind that have a fuzzy ball with streamers at the end, with no actual fire involved), and K had a book and G had a video, but I didn't have any particular urge to start swinging them around my head.

But then at Hidden City Lori showed us her whip chain or maybe chain whip and let us try spinning it. I have no interest in martial arts, but it made pretty patterns, and I was really taken with the easy fluidity of the figure-8 pattern, alternating vertical circles on the left and right sides of the body.

And it occurred to me not much later that poi are basically the same thing only not so martial. And tonight I mentioned to Kam that I'd be curious to try out her practice poi at some point, if they were easily accessible. And she said she had them in her car. Along with the book.

So before she headed off to Santa Cruz, she showed me a couple of "easy" poi moves, and I tried it out. And then she left, and I came inside and tried working my way through the beginning of the book—my living-room ceiling is just high enough in one area to accommodate the poi.

And it's totally cool. My juggling experience gives me a good start on the basic coordination and idea of keeping objects spinning in rhythmic motion around me, but there's a continuous flow to it that I don't quite get with juggling (though passing juggling pins in a multiple-person pattern comes close). The figure-8s still feel really cool—rotational inertia!—and even cooler when there's two of them going on at once, though I'm not good enough yet to keep them from tangling fairly quickly when I try that. And the basic turn is astonishingly cool, both to watch (when Kam was demonstrating it) and to do: sort of a sideways-twisting double simultaneous 3D figure-8 that ends up with the poister having turned 180 degrees and with the poi spinning in the opposite direction from how they started out. I can do it with one poi (either left or right), turning in either direction, but when I try it with both at once I mostly get tangled. But I still found myself almost laughing with astonishment at the motion. I can feel how it's supposed to go; I think I could get reasonably good at it. At least at the basics.

I still have no real desire to use fire poi, no matter how cool they look; I'm too timid, and timid is no way to be when you're whirling two heavy chains with fire at the ends of them around your body. (I tried juggling lit torches once, twelve years ago at Apple, and discovered that the WHOOSHing noise they make is loud and scary.) But I could really get into, say, glow-in-the-dark poi with streamers.

I was sleepy when I started, but now I'm all bouncy. Bounce bounce. Yay!

Thanks, Kam! I'll return your poi to you tomorrow.

3 Responses to “Swing time”

  1. joemorf

    That brings back memories! (Although the performance I saw did not involve fire.)


  2. M. Hogarth

    This is a bizarre thing to read about when I’m developing divination staff-with-ribbon dance moves for the next Jokka story. 😉

  3. Jed

    Greg reminds me that Ling took photos of the chain-whip session. I had seen those (a bunch of good pix there), but had forgotten about them. Thanks, Greg!


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