DAN’S PAPERS October 14, 2005
Poised for Poi
Is it an art form? A form of exercise?
It is both, says Susan Blacklocke, creator of Spiral Wave Poi, her take on Poi Arts. To watch Spiral Wave Poi is to watch an ancient art form still going in the 21st Century. Blacklocke, a native of Charleston, South Carolina and now a resident of the North Fork town of Greenport, has brought Spiral Wave Poi to the East End. Blacklocke has been teaching and practicing the tribal dance art form of Poi for the past three and a half years. Originating in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, mostly with the Maori people there, many variations among different tribes have sprung up over the years: Flag Poi, Fire Poi, Light/Glow Poi, Poi Balls, all integrated with different types of music, yoga, martial arts, and dance. Other forms are practiced for coordination and skill training, self-defense, meditation, or for fun .
But, what is it,one might ask. It is a celebratory dance in which radiant spiral patterns are made in the air with two colorful flag-like strips of fabric mounted on long sticks held by the user. Blacklocke calls it a creative interactive activity, terminology that seems easy to grasp in our interactive age. Poi is both the objects and the movement. Blacklocke invented the form of Spiral Wave Poi with over half a dozen basic moves, from the Split Swing to the Butterfly to Chasing the Sun. Weather permitting, she can be spotted doing Spiral Wave Poi on the beach.
It’s easy to see why Blacklocke has gravitated toward a practice like Poi. Her life to date has been full of movement. After a childhood in Charleston, she moved with her parents to England, lived in Spain, and backpacked through Europe. Over the years, Blacklocke lived on six different continents, a result of working on a cruise ship for nine years. On a luxury vessel catering to the very wealthy, Blacklocke was a visitor to incredible destinations. She calls it a wonderful experience, though after some time. she felt she needed to channel her verve into other creative pursuits. Blacklocke had seen Spiral Wave Poi in the streets of Spain and elsewhere around the globe. After much research, her journey into the world of Poi began. With her best friend Helene, whom she had traveled with on the ship and whom she has known since childhood, they created their own version of the traditional art form.
Blacklocke has taken Tae Kwon Do and Ballroom Dancing but doesn’t have much formal dance training to speak of. Sometimes the Poi is choreographed; mostly it’s spontaneous. “It’s my workout to some degree,” she jokes. As a practitioner of something with a more visceral nature, Poi has fallen in lockstep with Blacklocke’s life. She follows a vegetarian diet and practices meditation, considering herself more a spiritual than a religious person.
Spiral Wave Poi has made many appearances in the area. Blacklocke teaches at the Greenport School, for Greenport Parks and Recreation, Southampton Parks and Recreation, North Fork Fun and Fitness, at Hampton Bays Library, and soon for the Girl Scouts. Greenport First Night, the dry celebration held nationwide every New Year’s Eve, is another venue that has showcased Blacklocke’s talent. She can be hired for parties, has taken Spiral Wave Poi to harvest festivals, town parades, Dan’s Kite Fly, Shelter Island’s Wades Beach Bash, and to events with the East End Arts Council. This fall, she’ll perform at the upcoming Oyster Festival in Oyster Bay. She primarily teaches lessons for groups or individuals and holds a day job at the Indian Island Country Club.
Blacklocke also adds her “poi-formance” to the Hidden City Orchestra, a Long Island performance group composed mostly of musicians to which she belongs. Besides being nonstop creative, Blacklocke is also an accomplished photographer and displays work from her many travels. Her current exhibits are on view at the Martha Clara Vineyards and the Buzz Diner in Riverhead and can be seen on her website, www.spiralwavepoi.com.
Blacklocke makes the Poi herself, out of rip-stop nylon in rainbow colors. Made to order and sold on the website, they are sent out with an instruction sheet. She started to handcraft them when she found that a pair she ordered online were made from canvas she deemed too rough. Blacklocke will make them in any color that a person desires.
Although Blacklocke says it’s nice to stop somewhere, she feels like she’s still on her journey. In a few weeks, she’ll make a move to the neighboring town of Jamesport. She says she feels very fortunate to have landed on the East End, and especially to have met so many people she enjoys. “I love it out here,” she says. “I have so much less stress now.” Very content with how this portion of her life is playing out, she says: “The last three years have given me the time and space I’ve needed to create.”