As we take a closer look this week at poi spinning and hooping and the combination of the two, we took time out to interview Isa “GlitterGirl” Isaacs. Isa isn’t your average hooper, she’s Founder of Temple of Poi, quite possibly the world’s premier poi fire dancing school and she’s a Professional Fire Dancer and Flow and Fire Dancing Coach. What insights does she have to offer those of us taking a look at expanding our hooping reportoire?
Let’s start at the beginning, hooping wise at least. Her first experiences with hooping were as a child. Isa reveals, “I was absolutely positively unable to keep the hoop up. It was frustrating and had me thinking I was really uncoordinated, since everyone else around me could do it. Of course, that was not the only context where I thought I was uncoordinated. It just furthered the already existing thoughts in my head.”
After a few other troubled attempts over the years, all of this changed at an afterparty at a friends place on New Year’s Day 2004. She explains, “I was lucky enough to be sharing space with the Good Vibe Hoop tribe and some fabulous hoopers: Anah “Hoopalicious” Reichenbach, Dawn “Light Amora” Kimball and Sass. Also in attendance was Dawn’s husband Carlos who is the first person I saw doing hoop isolations, something that has inspired me through time. They encouraged me and by the end of the night I was moving my arms in and out of the hoop and was on my way to considering being a hooper.”
Isa’s favorite hoop remains the one Anah gave her that fateful day. She explains, “Who Anah was in that moment when she gave me that hoop opened me to a much deeper understanding of love of your art and wanting to see other’s in that space. It inspired me to give away more than one set of poi and a hoop through time in honor of the gifts she gave me that go far deeper than the physical realm. I saw her at Decompression this fall and said, ‘I believe I owe you a hoop.’ and handed her a different hoop. But she looked at me in that incredible Anah way and said, ‘Owe? You don’t owe me anything.'”
Today GlitterGirl is a 37-year-old San Francisco resident, born in Brooklyn, NY and raised on Long Island. Regarding her age she says, “I’m truly at an age where I feel old enough to know better and young enough to care – the best of both worlds.” Her hooping time varies with the ebb and flow of her life. “Sometimes I will hoop a few hours a week for a few weeks, but then I won’t hoop again for a few weeks.”
When Isa isn’t hooping, she loves to spin poi. She explains, “I love to run my company. It has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life because teaching and performing flow arts has helped me share so much beauty, joy, growth, body awareness and inspiration with thousands of people. It is my favorite thing in life right now and all the other things I do support it – pilates, meditation, personal evolution work, listening to Ken Wilber, djing, mixing music, dancing, making costumes and generally having fun with people in the world.”
Poi, her first entry into using flow tools as a means of understanding her body movements, has “undoubtedly changed my relationship to movement and self expression. The hoop is a simpler tool to use and explore flow with. After that night with Anah, Dawn, Sass and Carlos I found a whole new way of dancing with a tool. There’s a lot more freedom of motion using a hoop since you can have your hands free and you only have to have one tool. That allowed for me to open up my dance style a lot more and helped me appreciate more of the dance.”
Speaking of dancing, I had to ask her musical preference. She responded, “I love hooping to electronica. I have recently been into down tempo and music with more breaks in it because it adds more flavor to the dance for me. This video is a good example of that because you can really see how it is inspiring my dance movements.”
What quality does she most admire in a hooper? “Self expressive dancing with flow. I think I admire that most in any flow tool performer. Most flow artists in my experience are not dancers whereas I
think Anah is the best example of self expressive dancing with flow I’ve ever seen with any flow tool.” So what does Isa see as her most marked hooping characteristic? “I do a lot of verticle hooping, I shake my ass a lot, though, really, the way I do hoop and poi together is perhaps the most unique thing about my style. There are so many fabulous hoopers out there, I know enough to know that while I’m better than average and can teach hoop really well because I know how to break things down with the details students need, I am nowhere near the performance level of people like Shredder, KC, Elena and others previously mentioned. I also know what it takes to become world class from my own practice with poi. Realistically, I don’t really aspire to be a world class hooper the way I am with poi, though I do aspire to perfecting Poi-La-Hoop in a way that makes it look like more than just a side show act at the circus. I’ve been working on passing the poi through the hoop, some of which you can see in this video.
Turning her work with flow into her career has not been without its challenges. She continues, “Since I started Temple of Poi in Summer of 2002, I have been working on integrating the life of an artist with the life of an income that supports the lifestyle to which I was accustomed before giving up corporate America. When I left my high tech job, I was making $165,000 a year (though that was only for that year) and living in a $1300 per month master suite of a beautiful 13 room house in the Portola district of San Francisco. I went from that to a $500 a month illegal space in a warehouse with no walls between the “rooms” (just curtains) and when I got my first studio for Temple of Poi 4 years ago, I couch surfed for a year so I could make my rent on the space and still eat. It was a tough time. And an absolutely welcome challenge.”
“It has been a long journey of dis-identification with material ‘status’ and defining who I am in the world when I am ‘naked’ and without the distractions of the material world to hide behind. At the same time, I choose to want to make a lot of money, not because I’m identified with it any more, but because money offers opportunities. My goal is to grow Temple of Poi or whatever it morphs into over the years to a multi-million dollar, mult-national company. From that fiscal success, I can open a non-profit organization whose mission is to fund creative ideas for which individuals can’t otherwise get money. The funding would come in the form of a set monthly stipend so the entrepreneur would be protected from accidentally blowing it all at once and to ensure they had an ongoing revenue stream. When I was making lots of money in my corporate job, I funded 3 big projects for my friends and several smaller ones, gifting something close to $20,000 to them the last 18 months before I left high tech. I think of how that changed their lives and imagine the impact a non-profit like this could have
on the world. It would be phenomenal. Where I’m currently at with this is working on helping other artists understand that just because you have money doesn’t mean you have ‘sold out’ and sold your art short. Artists deserve to get paid just as much as everyone else and I consider it a wonderful thing to be ‘Thriving Artists’ rather than a ‘Starving Artist.’ I’m even teaching a class on this in January.
In response to the question that if she could give one hoop to anyone in the world Isa said, “I think I’d have to donate a bunch of hoops to the cause and get George Bush, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-il and the rest of the world leaders in a room together doing a hoop off. I mean, imagine if you will, these people hooping on breaks between negotiation sessions or something like that. So much of what our world leaders are doing is cognitive and not grounded in their bodies. So not only do I think it would be fun to watch them hoop, I think it might help them get in touch with their bodies a little bit more to
help foster them being more whole-sum leaders. And just for fun, I’d like to see Bill Gates in the room also.”
So hoops or poi? Poi or hoops? Hooping poi? Does Isa see a difference? She explains, “‘Fight is fight; flow is flow.’ I said that the first night to Anah when I realized I was tensing up (fighting) to try and work the hoop rather than relaxing into the feeling of the hoop rolling across my body (flow). It is
the flow that makes the hooping work, not the fight. For me both the hooping and poi forms embody Flowology™ – the process of exploring where one’s energy ends and the energy that is not the self begins. The tools have a certain amount of momentum on their own and working with that energy is such a powerful experience in terms of growing one’s kinesthetic awareness. Where they are very different for me is that I find hoop far less constrictive than poi because it is one tool only. By the nature of a single hoop versus two hoops or two poi, there is more to keep track of and more
complexity in the movements as a result.”
What advice does she have for someone wanting to experiment with poi? She says, “I think it is really important to get some pointers from people who know more than you do about something when you’re first starting out. I’m self taught in both poi and hoop, but I know that one night around those fabulous hoopers made all the difference in my development. I never really got tips like that for poi and it took me much longer to get competent as a result. I think hoop requires less direction than poi does – for example, in one hoop class I can take someone who can do just basic hooping around the waist and give them a good 6-12 moves to be working on. Whereas that sort of thing takes a novice poi spinner generally 3 times longer.”
If you’re looking to learn poi and you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area or traveling there, Temple of Poi offers many classes. In fact everyone who mentions this promotion when registering for poi classes receives $15 off their next full priced poi session or $5 off their next full priced hoop session. Yes, Isa also offers very personalized hoop classes working on everything from combinations of movements, to performance coaching, to actually teaching moves. These sessions are no more than 3 people at a time.
Find out more about poi at Temple of Poi, as well as more about Isa “GlitterGirl” Isaacs at GlitterGoddess.com. She currently lives in San Francisco, Califronia.