Not many whip flaming balls of Kevlar around their head to relieve stress. But 19-year-old Cooley Everidge says he finds his greatest release in the fire-spinning performance art called poi – despite his better judgment.
After his first performance ended with burning off chunks of his own hair, conventional wisdom said re-evaluate the situation. Cooley said no.
Now, three years later, the dreadlocked Frankfort native is performing in front of thousands and has dreams of sharing his passion with as many as he can.
Poi originated in 18th-century New Zealand as a storytelling method. Groups would sing and dance while swinging tethered weights in geometrical patterns. Modern poi is typically less structured and can be done with normal weights, neon lights or fire.
Oftentimes practiced at music and dance festivals like Burning Man, National Dance Week and the European Juggling Convention, Cooley discovered fire poi at the 2008 Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival in Harrodsburg.
“I saw it and fell in love with it,” he told The State Journal. “I knew I had to do it.”
Cooley grew up a daredevil, spending his Elkhorn Elementary and Middle School days skateboarding across town.
After attending his freshman, sophomore and senior years of high school in North Carolina – his junior year at Western Hills – Cooley graduated and returned home to find the crew he skated with “had all gone off to get jobs and be grown ups.”
Discovering poi was a new way to feel the rush of excitement Cooley craved.
“I like the feeling of the adrenaline when I hear the crowd or when I realize I have fire that close to me that I’m controlling but could still burn me at any second.”
The connection Cooley felt to the art form at that first Harvest Festival was instant and strong, and he spent the next year spinning up to eight hours a day.
After school and into the early hours of the morning, he’d spin weighted practice bags in a mix of martial arts and dance moves that were mostly spontaneous.
Poi spinners have a selection of basic tricks to draw from, and performers build on them to varying degrees – typically the faster and smoother the better.
Cooley’s intense practice paid off and at the 2009 Harvest Festival he was asked to join PoiVision DiVision, the festival’s house spinning group.
With PoiVision, Cooley has had the chance to perform in front of 4,000-5,000 people at a time. The large crowds combined with his costly first-time mistake have helped make him a more confident performer.
“Both of those things will definitely take away the nervousness,” he says.
Watching Cooley spin is mesmerizing. With no hesitation, he twists the fiery weights around his body so fast that the air around him seems literally painted with spheres of light.
Candace Christopher, a 22-year-old Frankfort native, also spins fire and says that Cooley isn’t just getting the hometown benefit of the doubt. His skill is legitimate.
“I’ve seen a lot, and he’s my favorite spinner,” she said. “He gets pretty sick with it because when he does it, it’s like a dance.
The coolest part is that he adds all the body movement to get everyone else into it.”
The stay at home mom doesn’t take tips from Cooley, though. When Candace spins, she uses a hula-hoop, not tethered weights.
To perform, Candace inserts several spokes into the side of a hoop, each with a large wick on the end.
Fire hoops paint a slower, more methodical picture, but that doesn’t mean you should stick candles in the side of little Susie’s plastic hula-hoop and watch her go.
Performers need a specific size and weight of hoop depending on their body size. And those who are at the peak of skill will whirl the flaming bands around their necks, up and down the trunk of their bodies and through their legs.
“It’s creative dance,” Candace said. “It takes a lot time, effort and creativity, just like painting or sculpting.”
Cooley agreed, adding that he thought poi fit in well with the local arts vibe.
“We have a lot of support in town,” he said. “I was asked to perform at the summer concert series this year and I’ve also been thinking about doing Expo. People tell me I should pass out fliers and do birthday parties, too.”
And though Cooley’s not sure if he’ll hire out his talents, he definitely wants to let others in on his passion.
He’s recently been in talks with Julia Rome, owner and director of Frankfort Yoga Studio, to teach classes for those who would like to learn poi – fire optional.
Cooley’s working at Amazon now, but poi is never far from his mind and he spins whenever he gets the urge.
“There are four or five people in town who I’ve gotten into it, but honestly, I’ll keep doing this until my body can’t do it anymore.
“I would love for it to spread out. I’d love for it to take off and to be able to travel with world with it. But if that doesn’t happen, I’m not worried. At least a few people around me got to experience it and that’s good enough for me.”