Belly Dance Props – Poi

In a number of posts I will investigate a variety of belly dance props. Props are a wonderful way to add something special to your dancing, designed to dazzled and awe your audience. Aside from that they will force you to try out new ways of enhancing your dance. Different props have different effects and might require a different sort of dancing, a faster or slower rhythm or different costumes. In these posts I will explore where the to-be-described props originate from, how they are used and where they are used most commonly.

This entry is about Poi.

One prop I’ve been very interest in for a while and want learn to play with even more than the veil or the fan is the poi.

Poi are basically things hanging from a string that you swing about. Back in the days when I was going back and forth between the UK and the Netherlands I met a couple of people who were heavily into juggling and one of them was completely hooked on swinging her poi, making intricate patterns in the sky all around her by dual-wielded long threads with balls on the end. And I’ve always thought the idea quite intriguing so I was very much pleased to find posts on Youtube that included poi in belly dancing. Even more incentive to start doing this!

To explain my interest in poi, maybe it’s best to first view some videos:

Do you understand my fascination?

So here’s the history

That's real tribal right there!
That's real tribal right there!

‘Poi’ is the Maori word for ‘ball’ on a cord. Poi is a form of juggling where the balls are swung around the body. Poi can take many shapes and forms from LED lighted glowing, fabric like veils or socks (not real socks! Kevlar socks!) on fire. From it’s beginnings Poi had the purpose of enhancing dance and rhythm. It was soon realised that Poi swinging had several other benefits from wrist strength, flexability and improving co-ordination to name a few. Mastering simple Poi moves can quickly improve self-esteem and gain respect from others. Hence the reason it quickly becomes addictive. And like all performance arts you are only limited by your imagination. (courtsey of homeofpoi.com)

Materials

From the wiki:

Originally, poi were most commonly made from harakeke (Phormium tenax) and raupō (Typha orientalis). Makers stripped and scraped flax to provide the muka (inner flax fibre), which was twisted into two strands to make the taura (cord) as well as the aho (ties). A large knot was tied at one end of the cord, around which the core was formed from the pithy middle of the raupō stem. Dampened strips of raupō stems were then wrapped around the ball and tied off around the cord, forming the covering . The other end of the cord was often decorated with a mukamuka, a tassel made from muka formed around a smaller knot. Occasionally, smaller tassels called poi piu were affixed to the base of the poi ball.[7]Construction and design varied widely depending on regional, tribal, and personal preferences.

Another variety of poi is poi tāniko. In this construction, the outer shell was made of finely woven muka using a pattern based on a fishing net;[8] these poi sometimes included strands that were dyed yellow to form a diamond pattern known as Te Karu ō te Atua (the Eye of God).

In the late 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century, a cottage industry developed from the manufacture of raupō poi for sale to tourists, especially in the Rotorua area. Tourist-friendly variations included miniature poi that could be worn in buttonholes and as earrings.

Traditional raupō poi are less likely to be used by modern poi artists since traditional materials wear quickly with frequent use. Also, flax and raupō are becoming increasingly difficult to find as the wetlands where they are naturally found have been drained or made into conservation reserves (although traditional harvesting is, generally, allowed by law).

Today, most performance poi are made from durable and readily available modern materials. Cores are often made of foam or crumpled paper, while skins consist of plastic or loomed fabrics, such as tulle. Tassels are usually made of wool.

Does this look like bedroom toys? Or is it just me?
Does this look like bedroom toys? Or is it just me?

Though that’s all really cool and I would -love- to own a set of those at some point. But for regular practice I think any juggling-store poi would do to be honest. Poipoi.info has quite the variety of available sorts and though they may not have veil poi, it might be best to practice spinning with a poi and not hitting my face before I start adding veils and sorts. So I’ll be having a look into where I can get a set of normal poi.

Sorts of poi?

So I found a number of things to do with poi. The regular poi for normal practicing, traditional poi for when you want to be exquisitely interesting, single or double fire poi for dangerous a feral Mad Max kind of thing, single or double veil poi for more eastern dancing.. Quite a lot of variation; a versatile prop that leaves a lot to the be creative with, depending on what sort of choreography I want to have.  My personal favorites are fire poi, LED poi and of course veil poi. But there are plenty more different sorts to play with.

And what do you think of using LED lights?

For more info on which types of poi there are: homeofpoi.com. They give a very detailed and interesting description of the most commonly used ones.

I’m eager to start using these things and will soon be looking into buying some.. I even have the music I want to end up dancing too sorted: Juno Reactor – Pistolero. Just the right speed and bounce and not too boring.

If you want to start just like me to learn to use the poi to later on integrate it in your dancing maybe these videos on Meenik’s Youtube videos will help you out. Good luck and let me know how it works out!

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3 thoughts on “Belly Dance Props – Poi

  1. Thea says:

    I have my reservations about poi, and also about fan veils. The reason is that they are not Middle Eastern – they’ve been brought in from other cultures. I know that’s not a problem in Tribal or Tribal Fusion, because a mix of cultures is what they’re all about. However, my main complaint is that because they’re not designed to be used in belly dance, it’s not easy to dance while using them. What often happens is that the performer spends all their time swinging the prop around and doesn’t get around to doing any actual dancing. I can admire the skill involved – but if I go to a belly dance show, I want to see belly dancing, not fabric dancing!

    1. Intermittante says:

      I agree with you and have the same irritation in this. However when a dancer does succeed in implementing the props in a way that befits both the dance and the performance, I think it’s quite gorgeous 🙂

      Couldn’t the same be said about zills though? I mean; they -are- designed to go with the more traditional type of belly dance -but- using them properly proves a challenge to many dancers too. To do it right is difficult and seeing dancers who haven’t mastered the skills performing with them, can be just as annoying, right?

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