Minnesota Sounds and Voices: The Spin Collective dancersby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
DULTUH, Minn. — The sun is setting on Lake Superior as members of the Spin Collective dancers soak small kevlar orbs in fuel and set them afire. Then, wielding them at the end of chains or long metal arms, they begin twirling the orbs in what's called a poi dance.
The five dancers form a circle and they begin to move -- slowly at first, as their arms rise and fall -- as they twirl the flaming orbs at the end of chains or on long metal arms and hoops.
"It's an aboriginal dance from Australia that the native people used as strength training and flexibility," says Jillian Forte, one of the women gathered for the dance on the beach, as they move in rhythm to the centuries-old tradition.
The scene is hypnotic, meditative almost, as the dancers whoosh through the air and their flames illuminate the beach where a light rain has just ended and a low ceiling of broken gray clouds allows an occassional glimpse of a deep blue evening sky. Duluth city lights twinkle in the background.
Along with the indigenous people from Australia, the Maori of New Zealand also claim poi - they call it kapa haka -- as part of their tradition. The patterns dancers follow suggest forces of nature such as birds in flight, waterfalls, or summer rain.
Spin Collective dancer Bailey Woodruff says modern poi also has moves from many traditions. "North African folkloric dancing, north Indian dancing, Egyptian dancing, flamenco, it's a fushion of all those things," he says. But adding fire to poi dancing is a new element.
Dancer Denise Hooper says she and the other Spin Collective dancers follow a lead dancer and add improvised moves.
"When I'm dancing the Arabic move I'm plunging my hands down and doing this undulating movement, and so that indicates to everybody else that they join in in that movement," she says. "We're dancing in the moment."
To hear Dan Olson's full Minnesota Sounds and Voices report, click on the audio link above.
- All Things Considered, 05/24/2012, 5:54 p.m.