The history of poi dancing
Poi is a form of dance, where weights on the ends of tethers are swung through rhythmical patterns. The word poi comes from the Maori people of Aotearoa (a.k.a. New Zealand). Maori women dance with poi in traditional ceremonies.
Poi was popularized throughout the world largely through the more recent invention of fire spinning, which is not part of Maori tradition or culture. Nobody seems to know who first invented “fire poi,” or when it happened.
This new version of poi was only loosely based on traditional Maori poi dancing, and quickly evolved as it spread around the world. Enthusiasts borrowed from other disciplines, such as juggling, club swinging, dance, and rhythmic gymnastics. Yet the name “poi” stuck.
(Please note: At Playpoi we have become interested in appropriately addressing any issues of cultural appropriation related to poi. If you have any concerns, please contact us!)
This new version of poi appeals to those who are looking for a dynamic and engaging physical activity that is less intense than martial arts or competitive sports. There is now a large global community of enthusiasts devoted to “global fusion poi,” and the Internet serves as a major medium for exchanging ideas and enthusiasm. At the center of the community are true believers, who see poi as the Jedi training tool of the new millennium. This mythos provides a curious undercurrent to the art-form.
In time, poi enthusiasts turned to flag poi, LED poi, and other tools that express the beauty of poi without the health and environmental risks of fire.