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Poi Holarchy
last updated: 051222


This model is the result of considering how to create a beautiful, well organized framework within which everyone can fit their ideas, specialties, move names and concepts so the poi community can cross pollinate the information we know and educate each other from a common language structure. In developing this model, important questions arise, such as:

  • what is more fundamental?
  • what is required to generate a pattern?
  • what patterns are most basic?
  • how do the poi fit together with each other?

While this model could be distinguished from a variety of perceptual positions -- audience, artist, observer -- what is distinguished below is from the perspective of the artist. This is important to consider when looking at this model because it is about the poi artists kinesthetic (in their body) experience vs. the audiences visual (what they see) experience.

What is a holarchy?

The naturally emergent poi model is a holarchy, and rather than describe what a holarchy is myself, I am going to quote from one of the forerunning philosophers/integrative thinkers of our time, Ken Wilber, who has done a lot of work to describe and educate people in this particular area. From "A brief History of Everything" by Ken Wilber:

Arther Koestler coined the term "holon" to refer to an entity that is itself a "whole" and simultaneously a "part" of some other whole. ...

For instance, a whole atom is part of a whole molecule, and the whole molecule is part of a whole cell, and the whole cell is part of a whole organism, and so on. Each of these entities is neither a whole nor a part, but a whole/part, a holon.

A natural hierarchy is simply and order of increasing wholeness, such as particles to atoms to cells to organisms, or letters to words to sentences to paragraphs. The whole of one level becomes a part of the whole of the next, but _not_ the other way around.

This is a sequence of increasing wholeness, increasing holons, each of which transcends and includes its predecessor. Now if, in a type of thought experiment, you "destroy" any particular type of holon, then all of the _higher_ holons will also be destroyed, but none of the _lower_ holons will be destroyed. [That is, if you eliminate sentences, paragraphs are no longer possible, but words still exist. Paragraphs are the higher level holon which becomes more than the sentences by including the sentences within -- thereby "transcending and including" the holons below it.]

When holists say 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,' that means the whole is at a higher or deeper level of organization than the parts alone -- and that's a hierarchy, a holarchy. Separate molecules are drawn together into a single cell only by properties that supersede the molecules alone -- the cell is holarchically arranged. And without holarchy, you simply have heaps, not wholes.

The Poi Holarchy

The poi holarchy levels can be described as follows:
Aspects > Transitions > Moves > Combos > Sequences

In a sense, this is an arbitrary break down of the structure of the poi interactions. As such, when i first described this model, i would have differentiated Movements from Aspects, where movement is a specific aspect of "in motion" or "still". After a conversation with 2Bags, i decided the two really could be considered the same thing and subsequently eliminated "movements" from the holarchy, grouping them as a specif Aspect.


An aspect is defined as an attribute used to define the motion of the poi. Once you have control over the poi and can apply various controls over the poi such as the speed, plane, direction, size, center of revolution, radius of each circle, plane, location in space and revolutions through time. I call these attributes aspects and posit these are the basis of the poi interaction.


Once an artist controls aspects -- more and more of them through time --an artist can intentionally change one or more aspect. For example, when doing a basic spin, you are changing the center of revolution ever so slightly; when you do a figure 8, you are both changing the plane and the direction; when you do a stop or stall, you are changing the direction; when you slide the poi from the plane parallel to your hips to the plane perpendicular to your hips, you are modifying the plane. Each of these changes of aspect is define as a transitions and these include: spins, figure 8s, stalls, stops, and wraps.


After gaining control over transitions, you can combine 2 (or more) poi doing 1 or more transition each to create reproducible non-repetitive patterns. I call these "moves".

From a kinesthetic perspective, I believe there are three fundamental ways the poi can move relative to the body and each other.

One way is to remain in the same and/or parallel plane relative to each other without crossing the the body. The butterfly is an example of this, as is the buzzsaw or flowers. Even circles on the side of the body would fall into this category. Because they all fundamentally create patterns by having the poi work in the same manner relative to each other and the body, I think it is easiest to categories them all as one move type which, for the sake of argument, I call planar moves.

Another way for the poi to move is such that the poi chase or follow each other (front to back or side to side or floor to ceiling, for example) and do cross the body. These types of show up as pinwheels, corkscrews and hip reels. These are called chasing moves or reels.

The other fundamental way the poi can move relative to each other and the body is to chase each other and cross the body -- like reels -- while also crossing each other. A cross over (2 beat weave), and all weave based moves are examples of this type of movement. Not surprisingly, these are called weaves, crossovers or cross and chase moves

Note that all the "aspects" -- direction, size, speed, position in space, etc. -- previously mentioned are irrelevant to the move type, though the aspects can be varied to create a different visual effect. For example, one can vary the center of the revolution of the poi while doing a weave, thereby creating an isolation weave.

A logical question at this point might be to ask, “What about hyperloops?” A hyperloop is the process of intentionally wrapping one poi around another to cause directional changes. A hyperloop, best as I can see it, is a specific type of wrap involving both poi. One could make a case for this being a move, though, really, since the hyperloop is done on the same plane, I would call this a “plane” move where the “aspect” that is being changed is “direction” specifically using the type of transition know as “wrap” to create the directional shift.

One might also question the inclusion of Atomics -- moves where the poi do not remain on parallel planes. I would suggest an atomic is a specific type of aspect -- 90 degree planes between the poi -- rather than a type of pattern used to create the moves. Atomics and chase, can remain in the same relative plane, and/or cross and chase.

So, what we have so far is moves, which are created from transitions, which are created by variaying aspects.


Once you have access to moves, you can then string a move together with other moves and/or transitions to create reproducible non-repetitive patterns. These patterns are more complex than the moves they are made from. The fountain is a good example of this holon which I call a combo.


Finally, you put together a combo with other combos and/or moves and/or transitions to create reproducible patterns and that is a "sequence", which, when you put it all together, seems like the highest level. One might call this a "performance", but that implies other things like an audience so I am avoiding that term since one can desire to move the poi without performing for an/other(s). It is at this holon where we first encounter repetition within the pattern.

The Poi Holarchy Sumarized

So from the top down, the holarchy is:
Sequences (which transcend and include)
Combos (which transcend and include)
Moves (which transcend and include)
Transitions (which transcend and include)
Aspects (which at one point in time might have been considered to transcend and include movements, though at this update of this document, I will say a movement is a specific aspect)

A visual representation of this holarchy might look like this:


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