Poi, an ancient, often unrecognized, style of performance art, has recently been introduced to Murray State’s campus.
Poi is the art of swinging and spinning tethered weights in a variety of rhythmic and geometric patterns. The patterns may be arranged into a fluid dance that can also be accompanied by drumming, music or singing.
The most widely recognizable form of poi encompasses the use of fire. Many people unknowingly witness poi while on vacations at places such as Hawaii. It can also be found within Native American festivals as women and men alike take their turn dazzling the crowd with their performance.
The more experienced performers found at these events can often be seen throwing, spinning and tossing about their weighted balls of fire.
The performers seem relaxed, carefree and comfortable as they guide the flames just inches from their body – an ability that stems from years of meticulous practice.
Two Murray State students, Megan Mosier, sophomore from Eddyville, Ky., and Kyle Hunley, junior from Dallas, Ky., have started practicing the art of poi and said they have become increasingly impressed with famous performers as they find poi is much harder than it may seem from an outsider’s perspective.
“We practice with a Nerf ball inside a long sock, because when you’re first starting out (with real weights), you hit yourself a lot, but with the Nerf balls, it hurts a little less,” Mosier said. “When we started, we practiced with tennis balls, and we got a lot of bruises. When you’re swinging tennis balls around, it can be surprisingly painful.”
Their interest in the ancient art form was sparked when a mutual friend who practiced poi showed them both how to begin and taught them a few simple patterns.
“Once she showed it to us, we were both just hooked and we’ve been practicing it ever since,” Hunley said.
Mosier and Hunley can often be found out in the Quad, practicing new and increasingly difficult maneuvers.
Both students are open to creating a new club on Murray State’s campus to teach other students and perform the art, but have not set the planning into motion just yet.
“Starting a club could be really cool, but right now we’re just enjoying it,” Mosier said. “If someone was to call us and say they were interested we would definitely go from there, but until there’s some definite interest we’re not that worried about it.”
Mosier and Hunley are both hoping to eventually reach the level of poi mastery that will allow them to perform with fire, but are aware that it could be a long road.
“You have to practice for a really, really long time with the simpler balls before you work up to fire, because, well, you really don’t want to set yourself on fire,” Mosier said.
Regardless, both students said they thoroughly enjoy poi, and have found exploring new things are often the most rewarding.
“It’s really cool just to know that you can do it,” Hunley said. “And when you go places and people just stop and are staring because they don’t even understand what you’re doing, it’s worth it.”
Story by Shannon MacAllister, Staff writer.