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Learning Flame-Free Poi at Ophidia Studio

Poi in motion tends to stay in motion


Workouts involving tube socks and tennis balls tend to also employ rackets and non-amorous usage of the word "love." But the tennis staples take on a different purpose in poi classes at Ophidia Studio.

As Ophidia instructor Julie Meek explained to a small class recently, poi originated with the Maori people of New Zealand. And although commonly known for the iterations of the artform using fire, poi needn't involve flames--just tethered weights (also called poi) that can be swung, hence the tube socks with the tennis balls that Meek brought to class.

Before beginning, Ophidia owner Allison Holley told me that poi was more like a puzzle and less about burning off your eyebrows. I can't say I really understood at the time. And having never fully mastered the mind-body connection that so many yoga teachers preach, I didn't expect to completely get it when Meek brought up the mental aspect of poi.

However, after getting over the silly feeling of standing in front of a mirror with the weighted socks in hand, and listening to Meek explain planes (which triggered unsavory memories of geometry class), stalls and split-time, it all made sense.

It also resonated when Meek said, without sounding trite or overly philosophical, that poi was similar to life in that you often feel like you're messing up but you're not.

There's a great deal more to this performance art than meets the eye. Moving one of the poi forward while simultaneously rotating the other in the opposite direction is a magnificent exercise for the brain. Moves like the corkscrew and butterfly--aside from looking wicked cool--require thinking about timing, movement and force. Some moves are easy to master at first and then don't make sense when revisited. Others are the complete opposite, and mastering a new move provides an exciting sense of accomplishment. Ultimately, it's addicting.

I laughed when one of the poi bounced off of my head and went soaring across the studio. Needless to say, I'm not yet near the level of skill needed to practice with flaming poi. But I did go home and scour my closet for a tennis ball to put in my tube socks, so maybe I'll get there.