One calm evening last week, Forrest Gropp could be seen practicing “fire poi” on the Eastsound waterfront as dusk passed into night. Poi is a form of juggling using balls on the end of ropes or chains which are swung and twirled around the juggler’s head and body.
Forrest has been practicing poi for a few months and recently graduated to “fire poi,” the ultimate spectacle. The balls on the end of the chains are large wicks soaked in kerosene and set alight. The result is a spectacular and mesmerizing dance of fire and body. The scene transformed from simply beautiful to spectacular and surreal as the light dimmed into night. After performing on and off for over an hour, Forrest’s arms were very tired. Although Forrest says he’s burned himself a few times, it was minor and he continues to practice “anywhere outside.” He saw a video of fire poi on the internet and talked to some people who do it, including a friend’s sister who performs in a troupe.
Poi spinning originated with the Maori people of New Zealand (the word poi means “ball” in Maori) as a means of promoting increased flexibility, strength, and coordination. The discipline of poi evolved into a traditional performance art. This art includes storytelling and singing choreographed to poi routines.
This is the perfect sport/art for Forrest, who has loved playing with fire from an early age and he now loves to perform for the crowd. Because he’s relatively new to the practice, Forrest doesn’t sing as he performs yet, but he enjoys listening to music, usually “Infected Mushroom” while performing. He is also working with dancers in his class to choreograph his practice.
Forrest is a senior at Orcas high school and an Orcas native. He works at the Funhouse on Friday nights and often performs there and is open to performing for any group. He may be reached at 376-6835.