Fire. That bright orange blaze speaks to a nostalgic part of me, reminding me of toasting marshmallows and chilly nights alternating roasting and freezing. Both a danger and a delight, fire can be tamed and turned into a performance art by those brave and skilled enough to wield it — namely, the MIT Spinning Club.
Every Sunday, the MIT Spinning Club holds a Spin Jam from 6–8 p.m. in either Killian Court, Lobby 13, or Lobby 10. In the shade of the vast wings of Building 3, I found the club members in a friendly group, twirling their staffs and spinning poi, chains with a handle on one end and a wick on the other. As I talked to Alexandra M. Westbrook ’13, the club president, I was disappointed to learn that open fires are illegal in Cambridge, so the group can’t currently perform with lit sticks at MIT. However, they are trying to work with EHS, MIT, and the fire department to be allowed to practice their art on campus. “I would like to bring more performances to MIT and maybe bring some outside people to perform with us,” Westbrook said.
Although MIT has a history of spinning that goes back to at least 2003, an official club was only created this year. Westbrook was the first person not discouraged by the prohibitions on fire. “This may be the third attempt at a club,” said Nathan S. Lachenmyer G — who graduated from MIT last year — who has been spinning since his freshman year.
The most basic fire-spinning props are staffs and poi. Both can be homemade, but professional staffs are much lighter than homemade ones. “Poi are a lot easier to make [than staffs]. A tennis ball in a sock is good enough for science. Don’t use baseballs, they hurt,” said Daniel J. Gonzalez ’14, from experience.
More exotic equipment includes rope darts, which are very long poi; fire hoops; and even fire umbrellas, the wrong thing to pull out when it starts raining. The MIT club does not have club equipment, so people have to provide their own. However, there usually is extra equipment to play with.
Ignoring the tourists scattered around taking pictures, the club members showed me the tricks they had been working on. While rolling the staff down her arms and around the back of her neck, Westbrook explained the two styles of staff spinning: the traditional style, in which both hands hold the staff; and the contact style, in which the staff is rolled on the rest of the body. The contact style is more difficult, requiring a balance of weights in an 8.01 torque nightmare.
Gonzalez focused more on poi, wrapping the chains around each other in a gleaming spiral. “The aesthetics of poi are what you do with the momentum. … You come to a point when you learn a bunch of tricks and you can transition between them. Then it becomes rewarding because you can dance to it,” he said.
In the quest to gain mastery of the elemental powers of flame, the best teachers are fellow spinners. The Boston spinning community practices on the MIT campus every Monday from 6–8 p.m., bringing talented spinners to learn from. “There are two rules. If you want to learn a move, tap someone on the shoulder and ask. If you are tapped on your shoulder, you have to teach,” said Tyler T. Hamer ’14.
So I watched the staffs whirling, the poi dance, and imagined the glorious spectacle they would be if alight. Some day.