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  • Writer's pictureLily @ CircusBrighton

What is the History of Poi Spinning?

Poi spinning is a fascinating art form that involves swinging tethered weights, known as poi, in a rhythmic and flowing manner. It has its origins in the Māori culture of New Zealand, where it was used as a training tool for warriors. Today, poi spinning has evolved into a popular form of entertainment and exercise that is enjoyed by people all around the world.



The early history of poi spinning dates back to the Māori people of New Zealand, who used it as a training tool for combat. The word "poi" comes from the Māori word "pōhiri," which means "to challenge." Poi were originally made from woven flax fibers, and the weights were made from stones or shells. The Māori used poi to develop coordination, agility, and strength, which were essential skills for warriors.


In the 20th century, poi spinning began to evolve as a performance art. The first modern poi performers were Māori women who incorporated poi into their cultural dances. In the 1980s, poi spinning started to gain popularity in the circus and festival scene, with performers developing new styles and techniques. Today, poi spinning is enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds, and it has become a global phenomenon.


One of the most important figures in the history of modern poi spinning is arguably Nick Woolsey, who is credited with popularizing the art form in the West. Woolsey, also known as "Playpoi," is a Canadian performer who started spinning poi in the early 2000s. He created the website playpoi.com, which provides tutorials, resources, and a community forum for poi enthusiasts around the world. You can check out his website HERE



Poi spinning has evolved into a wide range of styles and techniques, from traditional Māori poi to modern LED and fire poi. LED poi are illuminated, and fire poi are designed to be lit on fire, creating a mesmerizing visual display. The art form continues to evolve, with new styles and techniques emerging every year.


Poi spinning is not only a fun and entertaining activity, but it also offers numerous health benefits. It improves hand-eye coordination, balance, and strength, and it can be a great form of exercise. Additionally, spinning poi can help reduce stress and anxiety, as it requires concentration and focus.


In conclusion, the history of poi spinning is rich and fascinating, with roots dating back to the Māori culture of New Zealand. Today, poi spinning has become a global phenomenon, enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced spinner, there's always something new to learn and discover in the world of poi spinning. You can find out more about our Fire/LED Performances HERE



For academic sources and further reading materials that you can explore if you're interested in learning more about the history of poi spinning:

  1. Te Awekotuku, N. (2005). Mau Moko: The World of Maori Tattoo. University of Hawaii Press.

  2. Werry, M. (2016). Performing Poi: A Māori Practice in Contemporary Times. Ethnomusicology Forum, 25(2), 221-243.

  3. Woolsey, N. (2011). Playpoi: A Comprehensive Guide to Poi Spinning. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

  4. Laugesen, A. (2016). Fostering poi as an indigenous form of expression: the role of a regional cultural trust. World Leisure Journal, 58(4), 326-335.

  5. Williams, H. (2014). The Power of the Poi: Maori Identity and the Art of Poi Performance. In Sport and the Emancipation of European Women (pp. 117-133). Routledge.

  6. Moeke-Maxwell, T. (2012). E Hika Tu Ake: Poi, Indigenous Data Collection and Tino Rangatiratanga. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 8(2), 87-101.

  7. "The History of Poi Spinning" by Flow Arts Institute: https://www.flowartsinstitute.com/the-history-of-poi-spinning/

  8. "Poi Spinning: A Guide to an Art Form Born in the South Pacific" by Smithsonian Magazine: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/poi-spinning-guide-art-form-born-south-pacific-180962003/

  9. "Poi: A New Zealand Icon" by New Zealand History: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/poi

These resources should provide a solid foundation for learning more about the history and cultural significance of poi spinning. Happy reading and spinning!


You can also learn how to spin poi with us through our online tutorials on YouTube - Just click HERE!

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