From the moment I found house music parties at a free outdoor event the day before my 29th birthday, I was absolutely hooked on changing my relationship to moving my body. For as far back as I have memories, I played piano, sang and for many years, played flute. I studied music from Kindergarten all the way through college where I continued studying – my minor was in Music with a concentration in Electronic Music. I had enjoyed electronic music when I was composing it in college, but the music I had written would best be described as “IDM” these days — Intelligent Digital Music. It was, emphatically, a journey through the mind rather than a way to provoke motion in the body.
Having a strong relationship to rhythm coupled with my interest in electronic music made leaping into the dance community as natural as breathing. I could relate to the beautiful beats the house records blasted through the bass bins as a student of music. But the idea of dancing was a completely foreign concept to me as a clinically obese woman who was disconnected from my body.
Fortunately, I was a social dork, so all I really felt comfortable doing at these house music parties was get up and dance — like no one was watching. I just kept doing it, enjoying the way the music made my body move without me having to think or plan anything. It was an escape from my mind, a freedom I hadn’t known before.
2 years into the glorious exploration of the underground dance community in San Francisco I stumbled upon the Burning Man community where I accidentally picked up poi. As is the case for anyone not naturally gifted at something who is just picking it up, I was awkward and didn’t flow with much ease. After some months of practice, I had made a little headway, but was set back with both my dancing and my poi because of a 4 car head on collision I am lucky to have survived. (Yeah for airbags!)
|9 months later while playing with my ultra light weight LED poi — a novelty back in 2001 — I found myself dancing on the playa covered dance floor at Burning Man where my friends and I were throwing the party on the playa. My friends were DJing, my other friends were getting married, and I was more free than I had ever been. Photo Credit: Jason Ozaeta|
At this point I was 3 years into my exploration into dancing to house music and had met some fun and passionate dancers. I still did not think of myself as a dancer, rather someone who went out and danced. And as a mere fledgling in poi spinning with a very sporadic 18 month practice that was more off than on, I was even less skilled with the poi.
But something magical happened that night. That night I discovered what it meant to be an instrument of the music who could light up the space. With my super hip LED lights, I wasn’t limited by burn time and I found myself tranced out on the music. My body was expressing the sounds just as my poi were, creating patterns that harmonized perfectly with the array of tones vibrating the speakers.
This was my first breakthrough with poi and while I didn’t know it then, I can look back now, 7 years later, and declare with certainty that moment defined me as a poi artist. While it took me several more years to develop a half way decent poi repertoire, it also took that long to identify as a dancer. It wasn’t until a performer in my poi troupe – a woman who had studied dance for as long as I had studied music — asked me if I identified as a dancer that I considered the idea that in fact I might actually be a dancer.
All my life I had been working with music from the perspective of creating it for other’s to enjoy. For several years I was even DJing parties — so other people could dance. But in that moment when I considered the question, “Am I a dancer?” my world shifted and I began the slow and steady journey to the other side of the turntables.
It’s been almost 5 years since that revelation, and since then I’ve realized a few things. First, my relationship to dance shifted from, “I am someone who goes out dancing” to “I am a dancer.” Second, my relationship to poi shifted from, “I am someone who spins poi” to “I am a poi artist.” Third, I realize that for me, poi and dance are intrinsically linked.
While other amazing spinning artists in world are focusing on the next cool trick you can do with the poi, I’m geeking out on how to express the music as a visual instrument through my body and poi, having the two of them work harmoniously with fluidity. As a poi dance performance artist my focus is about marrying the music to the poi dancing so the poi look like a visual instrument of the music, specifically in a manner that appeals to audiences. Through time, the focus is on dancing with more and more complex poi moves and having them synchronize with the sound. This is a fun experience, to be sure, and just one more way to enjoy being a PoiGeek.