I traveled from the United States to New Zealand to study poi. To measure its effects on physical and cognitive health in a clinical trial. To ask Maori poi practitioners what poi means to them, and why its important. To discover how science and culture might meet, and what they might say to each other about a weight orbiting on the end of a string. But before diving in, I wanted to investigate my own understanding and experiences with poi, to situate myself as a poi spinner, an artist, and an academic in the field of my own research. So, this is my poi genealogy. My poi history. My story. I hope it sheds some light on where I have come from, where I am going, and why I believe a spinning sock can change the world.
For the first 20 years of my life, circus was everything. At age 8 I began performing with the youth circus at my school, founded and directed by one of my dearest mentors, Dr. Tom Romance. I loved flying. I loved being upsidedown. I loved performing just for the fun of performing, no pressure or fear of winning or losing. I could be whoever I wanted to be in the circus. Or I could just be me.
Throughout college I continued performing in the circus, where I eventually encountered fellow circus performer Zach. In between practicing our acts, I would catch him twirling what appeared to be socks around in circles. It wasn't overly impressive (especially not compared to flipping and flying) but curiosity led me to ask if I could try. It was love at first orbit, and both poi and Zach became pillars in my life. Zach and I started a fire poi troop and performed at local events. I began teaching poi at the youth circus I had grown up in. And Zach introduced me to the alternative festival scene in the U.S., where poi and other skill toys were a thriving and respected art.
In a forest on the outskirts of New York, I was introduced to poi spinners from all over the U.S., and to the trees and sky we would call home together at my first festival, Sirius Rising. Poi was suddenly part of a larger community and part of my surroundings, and I returned to Illinois enchanted. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I moved to Chicago to pursue an MFA. I never left the house without my poi. I spun walking down the street. I spun atop shoulders. I spun in the dust of the Nevada desert with skill toy artists from all over the world, who were using poi in ways I had never seen or fathomed. I took poi breaks throughout my day like a chain smoker.
After a year in Chicago my shared living room was turning into a sock twirling war zone. For the sake of my roommates and the furniture, I moved my poi lessons to a storefront building in the Ukrainian Village, with living quarters in the back. It became the SpinPoi center: my home for the rest of my time in Chicago, and a place for skill toy artists to gather, take lessons, build and sell new equipment, and share ideas. It was the only skill toy center in the mid-western United States.
Inevitably, my poi passion and academia collided in a project called The Geometry of Poi, a four channel video installation which illuminated the geometric shapes created while spinning. From the streets of Chicago to a life-size projection on the side of a building at the Digital Graffiti Festival in Florida, the project sparked a curious meeting of poi, art, and digital technology.
Having successfully merged poi and my masters studies, there was only one thing left to do: add music to the equation to form one all encompassing ball of passion and creative expression. With the help of developer Robert Guyser and programmer Jordan Stefanelli, the first poi musical instrument was born. By sending accelerometer and gyroscope data from the poi to a computer, one could make any soundscape imaginable. Combining poi, which is already rhythmic in nature, with music opened up endless dreams and posibilities. After completing my M.F.A., and debuting the Orbitar at my master's thesis performance, life took me to Boston where the Orbitar continued to grow and develop.
After years of Orbitar research and development, I presented my poi dreams at TEDx Beacon St. I hoped that through my talk, I would not only inspire people to see the possibility of utilizing poi in their own lives along with in schools, hospitals, and nursings homes, but that a partner might emerge who could help me fund future Orbitar growth.
Out of money and resources, with no investors or partners in sight, I knew there were only two options left: give up, or go harder than I ever had before. Since I'd rather be pelted by a million flaming poi than give up, I moved forward with fervour. I shifted my focus from music / technology / multmeida poi of the future, to the core of it all...why does spinning poi feel so good? And I got on a plane headed for the other side of the world, where poi spinning originated, in an attempt to find out. To collect scientific data. To share stories. To listen, document, write, experience. To become an expert in the field. A doctor of poi.
Dr. Tom Romance for bringing circus into my life and inspiring me to be me :|: Zach Stephens for teaching me everything you knew about poi, and learning and growing with me :|: Gina Hutching for being my first Chicago poi student and supporter :|: Mike Smith for being my Orbital Portal and partner poi partner :|: Paul Catanese for helping me find a place for poi in academia :|: Michelle Litvin for showing me it's not about the sock :|: Valeriy Shafiro for being my most dedicated student :|: Robert Guyser and Jordan Stefanelli for believing in the Orbitar and helping bring it to fruition :|: Joe Correia for supporting the Orbitar and I through my M.F.A :|: Jacob Fenwick and Natan Wythe for making the Orbitar sing on the TEDx stage :|: Ralph Buck for believing that a girl from half way across the world had the potential to turn spinning socks into a PhD :|: Andrew Gold for leaving everything behind to go on this crazy adventure together, and :|: Rod Riegle and Pat van West, for being proud, supportive parents every orbit of the way