For someone who exclusively poi’d for years, it was a tough thought to pick up staff and fire eating; the reason being that I hadn’t been a beginner at a prop in such a long time and the thought of going back to square one wasn’t too appealing.
Not only did it mean starting from the ground up, but also that I would have to take time away from poi to practice something else.
This is my very niche example of a mindset that pretty much anyone has found themselves in. A common example is when people find their job unfulfilling but find the idea of learning a whole new work environment is very unappealing. Another is when someone finds they are in a boring relationship but the thought of finding and getting to know someone else from scratch is extremely daunting.
That being said, this article is going to be about learning staff and not relationship advice. The reason I bring these things up, though, is because so often things learned in one discipline can be applied to others if it is framed in the right way.
So as I blab about spinning, keep in mind other ways in which this can be applied.
Upon first picking up a staff, it felt awkward and clunky as I had expected. However, after not very long at all I started to pick it up and could somewhat freely spin it. Having years of poi under my belt, my body already understood some fundamental movements and just transferred that awareness to a different prop.
Muscle memory streamlined learning staff. What surprised me, though, was that practicing staff would also help with poi.
A weave with a staff is the exact same movement as a one-handed weave with two poi, isolations work the same way, and the geometric framework to spin through is, in a lot of ways, the same.
More than that, staff also forces me to move my body. Poi can be done extremely static, but the way a staff moves there is far more body movement required.
I’ve realized as a result of spinning staff that moving my body is a habit that can be formed like anything else, because I now just naturally move around more while spinning my poi.
Different Prop Perks
Different props behave differently. Given that a staff is ridged it means that there are tricks that can be done that will exploit this. Really quick stalls, dramatic speed changes, tosses, etc. are great examples of ways to use the nature of the staff to your advantage.
These are especially effective when used in combination with music because you can so sharply hit the beats or drops of a song. By extension, the aforementioned tricks can also be used to contrast the flow style moves like windmills and weaves.
On the flip side, with a prop like poi there are countless ways to use the slack tethers to produce different results. Hand wraps are probably the most obvious move to take advantage of it, because it involves wrapping the strings around your hands or wrists and then unraveling them again.
It’s probably fairly obvious but spinning different props opens up totally new visuals. There are tons of different manipulation toys out there for a reason; each one offers a distinct display style with its own physics.
Some are ridged like staff and Buugeng, others have a tether involved like poi or rope dart. There are even really cool combinations of ridged objects with tethers like the Levi-Wand.
Each of these behave differently so it keeps performances visually interesting for the audience. It’s a lot easier to keep people’s attention with skills spread across multiple props. If you can only spin one, you need a very large trick repertoire and a keen eye for energy building.
With my development, I’ve noticed that when I got to a higher level of poi spinning my progress with learning new tricks slowed. One theory I have is that it takes longer to learn more difficult moves. Another is that once I acquired a bigger arsenal of tricks, it became easier to just play around with what I know rather than workshop new tricks.
Realistically it’s probably a combination of both, and I’ve been trying to focus more in my practice sessions to really push my skills.
The beauty of picking up a brand new prop, especially after getting very comfortable with a different one, is that you can bang off tons of new tricks right off the bat.
The reason being that you won’t be able to flow with it because you aren’t good enough yet, so you’re forced to learn the basics one move at a time. Also, since they are the basic moves, if you’ve mastered one prop this one will likely come much easier than starting from scratch.
Being able to watch yourself get better at something really quickly is an excellent motivator.
More Movement Awareness
This is the area that can be surprising. Props all have their own physics but after picking up a few, you’ll notice that there’s a fair bit of overlap in terms of body movement.
While there are plenty of examples of where the moves are actually exactly the same, sometimes it’s the moves that are unique to a prop that can teach you some interesting stuff for others.
It’s hard to give a specific example, but I’ve noticed lots of little indications of my overall coordination improving. I always toss stuff around; pencils, pens, empty mugs, oranges, even crowbars if they’re around. It’s just my way of entertaining myself and I do it fairly unconsciously.
After learning different prop skills, my comfort with throwing all sorts of different objects around has improved a lot. So much, now, that I can send a scare into my girlfriend by casually tossing my beer mug around and making it look like I won’t catch it (no broken cups yet).
Not super useful, but fun nonetheless, and a good example of motor skill improving.
With my current gig at the Fire and Ice show in Whistler, there was an audition at the start of the season to pick the crew. They needed different types of props to make the show as interesting as possible.
Since I was able to say I spin poi as well as staff, it made me more appealing for hire because I can fill more than just one role.
Relate More With Others
If you’re a spinner, you probably enjoy talking shop as much as I do. It’s great to be able to talk about favorite moves, learn from fellow spinners, or go through routines with others who share your craft.
Our props connect us to each other, and the more variation we allow ourselves the more interactions we can have.