Flow arts – poi, staff, clubs, juggling, contact, etc – are all arts for the body. Yet, this amazing, flexible, beautiful and vital piece of the puzzles goes ignored for the longest time!
This is a recurring trait that I see over and over among new budding flow artists.
It most often manifests in the tendency to plant your feet close together and pretend to be a tree while playing. And it’s perfectly understandable, too! As I said to my friend Ian while teaching him poi:
If you try to do two things you are unfamiliar with at the same time, you will likely do both badly
This is very true – you can’t consciously focus on two things at once, especially if you’re like me and are male. This leads a lot of spinners to utterly neglect their bodies until a much later stage in the development of their skill! Personally, I found myself being very static in my spinning when I started out. Then about 6 months into my spinning when I had the joy of going to one of Nick Woolsey’s retreats in Bali where we learned all about poi-fu and body movement and stepping and so on!However, the body is much more than just a device to accentuate the appearance of your chosen skilltoy, as it were – it is much more than that. For a lot of beginners, it is all about the toy. A lot of poi spinners especially are guided **by **their poi, instead of guiding their poi into place.
So here are some useful tips on how to improve your spinning. Some of these will not lead to immediate improvements and the improvements gained from them will often be small and subtle, but it will provide you with a far better groundwork for your practice.
Let your toys come second.
If you’re spinning poi, the temptation is always toward perfect planes and timing and direction. New spinners often compromise their body position in order to achieve this. If you flip this idea around and completely **ignore **what your toys are doing and focus on what your arms are doing, you’ll see some changes.
At first those changes will largely be seemingly negative. You’ll find you hit yourself much more as your poi go wild and crazy around your body. Stick with it, I beg you.
After even a few minutes, your subconscious brain will start to internalise the new movements and more and more you’ll find that your arms are now operating on autopilot, freeing your conscious mind to start to think about what the poi are doing.
Don’t force it
This applies to two aspects of poi and staff spinning. A lot of spinners tense up and try to use brute force and muscle power to get their poi spinning and to get their arms to move. This is both tiring and leads to frustration.
Firstly, use the bare minimum effort required to get your poi to spin in a circle. Just enough to stop them from flopping down from the zenith of their orbit. This speed will save you energy as you’re not having to force the poi to move faster than they need to. It will also give you more ‘thinking time’ where you can work out where they and your body should be going next.
And secondly, relax. Object manipulation is about flow and, not to sound too much like a dirty hippy, being one with your toys. If you’re tensing your entire body in concentration and forcing your props to go where you want them to, then there is an aspect to your spinning you need to work on. The fact you’re forcing something is a great indicator of areas for improvement. Look for it, consciously relax and focus on what feels different and how you can fix it without resorting to brute force.
Make a silly face
I mean it. Really. You shouldn’t take this too seriously. Skill practice will take time and you will look silly doing it. The sooner you accept that reality, the easier your life will be. So if you’re trying to work on a complicated new idea, make a silly ‘concentration face’ and make noises corresponding to different elements of the new idea as you practice. You’ll find you’re enjoying it much more!
That’s it for now – I’ll translate this into video form sometime soon and post it!