*Above video is one of my favorite poi spinners, and an excellent example of very visually pleasing spinning.
Poi spinning, and by extension any flow art, is as much for the spinner as it is for the observers. People will have different levels of focus on how their art is received, and not everyone wants to be a performer or even spin in front of people.
However, even if the only observer is yourself, that is still an observer and possibly the most judgmental one at that. What I’m getting at is that at some point it’s likely that you’re going to want to make your spinning visually pleasing to satisfy whatever audience might be enjoying it.
If you’re just starting out and want to be better prepared for the watchful eyes of other humans, or if you’re a fellow performer and can’t quite figure out why other people get cheers throughout their performance instead of just at the end, this article is for you.
I’ve gathered some thoughts and strategies that I’ve noticed have helped gather some extra attention and praise.
Let me be clear; this isn’t a guide of how to trick the audience into thinking you’re better than you are. The thing is, with any skill like this it’s very difficult for the average person to understand the difference between a decent spinner and a great one.
Until you learn it for yourself it’s impossible to understand how difficult poi actually is. It’s up to the artist to figure out how to best display their talent so the audience clues in to why it’s impressive.
So here are some things you can work with to get a rise out of your fans and show them how hard you’ve worked.
I feel this is one of, if not the most important thing you can develop to make your spinning more entertaining to others and yourself. It has the ability to keep everything looking fresh and spontaneous. Even if you don’t have a huge trick repertoire it can still be a joy to watch if you’re moving with the pace of the music and feeling of the moment.
On the flip side, you can have all the tricks in the book but if they are being executed like a math equation it’s far more difficult for your audience to relate to.
Always remember that people want to watch someone express themselves through their art, not pull off complicated geometric patterns.
Now I’ve probably heated up all the tech poi spinners, but I don’t mean to minimize the world of geometry that poi opens up. I personally love watching the complicated geometric patterns, but unless your crowd is mostly fellow spinners I would avoid too much tech.
Sort of noticing a theme? Contrast is good. Although non-spinners won’t fully understand the depth of any one move, they will understand if you’re doing the same move over and over.
Building your trick repertoire is essential to becoming as entertaining as possible. It shows that you’ve spent time developing your craft, and in turn that displays your professionalism and dedication.
More than that, the combination of lights or fire and the cool physics-bending nature of prop manipulation is what creates delicious eye candy. Even if your fans don’t fully get what’s going on, if you have a diverse stockpile of tricks they will still be impressed by the geometry.
A side note to building a trick list; it’s also a good idea to learn how to effectively transition from trick to trick without pausing or plane bending in a sloppy way.
If you can’t transition cleanly, it takes you and your audience out of the flow and makes the performance look more like a trick showcase instead of a dance.
Clean Up Your Spinning
I have written another article on the importance of this, but I’ll summarize.
The more you iron out the wrinkles of your moves, the more your crowd will understand what it is you’re trying to accomplish. The shapes created by poi can be spectacular looking if they are clean.
Something as simple as a 3-beat weave can look great if it is very controlled and symmetrical, and there are lots of ways to perfect pretty much any move.
With the weave you can focus on how close together your hands are, how and where the poi crosses your body, how straight or bent your arms are, and varying the speed but staying in control.
There are four ways to clean up one of the simplest moves in poi! It goes to show that there is always progress to be made, and it’s a good thing to revisit the basics to keep your foundation rock solid.
Hit The Beats!
Not being super techy myself (although I’m trying to change that to get into more diverse tricks) I’ve always enjoyed freely spinning to music. I come from a drumming background, so for me it has always been important to mesh my spinning to the shape of the song.
I have a friend who has made a laser show device that reacts perfectly to the music you connect it with, and he said something about it that I’ve always remembered. He said that people love the effect of combining two or more senses; in this case, visuals and audio.
It seems obvious when you think about it, because people have been creating audio-visual displays and performances for decades, possibly centuries depending on how you look at it. But to hear it worded as such really made it ring true for me.
I strive to deliver that sensation through my spinning by attempting to hit the beats of a song in a way that is very obvious to people. This allows them to get more into the performance as a whole because they are enjoying both the spinning and the music.
Have you ever noticed that when you watch something impressive you will be really drawn in by the music? You can enjoy it so much in the moment and think that the performer is so great and the music is amazing.
But what can often happen is if you listen to that song again on its own, you fail to see why you liked it so much in the first place. This is because the performance is hitting you from two different angles that are meant to boost the effect of one another.
You can use this in your art. I find stalls to be invaluable in accenting a song beat, especially if used in repetition. But there are plenty of points you can hit in order to essentially drum with your poi.
Same time, same direction is great for easily displaying rhythm by making the lowest point in the circles a beat. The ends of the petals in 4-petal flowers are great hit points, although you need to be aware that the relationship between the circle and the beat is different.
There are tons of different moves, and most of them can be arranged rhythmically, so play around and keep counting in your head.
Hold For Appreciation (and Applause)
This is probably the tip that most resembles a cheat for cheers, but it’s something you’ll notice some of the best performers in any performance art will lean toward.
In poi, this doesn’t mean to halt, it means to stay on a move long enough for it to be appreciated. Good examples of moves that get cheers are things like triquetras and flowers. Even the simplest forms of these are quite visually stunning.
The idea is to not wash over them going from cool trick to cool trick, because it creates just a blur of talent and doesn’t allow the audience time to see any one defined shape. It’s still enjoyable to watch, but will only garner applause at the end.
The problem with that is there are less memorable parts of your performance, which unfortunately means that people’s impressions won’t be as strong, even if you’re very skilled.
When you pause on a move for just long enough, it allows your crowd a moment of “getting it”. It’s a way of telling them, “this is cool, you should be stoked.”
The more people cheer throughout your performance, the more they will be convinced that what they saw was impressive.
Make Your Art Stunning
For those of you who want to be more impressive performers, whether that’s for paid gigs, friends and family, or just yourself, try some of these out and see if you can get some better reactions. We all spin for different reasons, but it is always going to be a visual craft.
Appeasing the visual aspect can bring a much greater enjoyment to your audience and yourself, and I would urge anyone to consider it.