In a spin

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
There's nothing like fire to light you up, writes Kate Gray. 

As I watched the fire-spinning workshop participants warm up with staffs, poi and hula hoops, I felt like I was on a beach in Thailand. Except I was in a hall in Dunedin.

Josh, who runs the workshop - part circus act, part yoga class, part fire-spinning awesomeness - did a handstand for an inordinately long time. I sat down the back with a man who had clearly been roped into coming by his family and who, like me, would have been more at home at a project management conference.

As I stared blankly at upside-down Josh's contempt for the laws of gravity, my mind drifted to the beginning of the week when I fell over in the bathroom while trying to dry my foot.

Earlier that morning, when we decided to sign up for the workshop, Amber mentioned that she already knew how to do fire poi. This was one of the least surprising things I had ever heard her say. Mind you, in the three weeks since she joined Pikaado, every day has been a study in habituation via ongoing revelations of varying randomness.

Her great-great grandfather signed the Treaty and also ate a cousin after they had a fight. Her father is an inventor. Her best friend creates internet of things devices. Her mother is an astrologer and the president of a spiritual association.

Amber makes most people look slightly dull in comparison.

"Fire poi is great!" Amber enthused as we sat in the car park before the workshop. I mused on possible outcomes of the evening ahead: an inpatient stay at the burns unit, singeing off my eyebrows, letting go of a poi and sending a whirling orb of flames into something large and combustible.

"I only really caned myself badly once. I got the wire wrapped around my neck and set my hair on fire," Amber said breezily.

Amber had found her people at the fire-spinning workshop. She stood outside in the centre of the group swinging poi in long fluid motions and looking Zen. There were older people, young kids, teenagers and 20-somethings; young, beautiful things in bare feet swirling balls of fire elegantly around their heads as music played.

"That looks cold," I thought.

Amber knocked on the glass insistently.

"Come out with everyone! We need a photo. You looking un-co with a fire poi. It'll be perfect!"

"No it won't," I said, feeling more uncool than usual and acutely aware I that I don't set the bar very high for cool under even the best circumstances.

Josh offers the fire-spinning workshop through The Malcam Trust, which is a pretty amazing resource for Dunedin. You go there and breathe a sigh of satisfaction at all the good people doing good things for our city's youth. I recommend looking them up after reading the world news section of the paper as a sort of spiritual cleansing. They offer a range of really engaging experiences for youth; things that young people want to do, because they actually asked them.

While Josh's fire poi workshop left me with the growing realisation that I was closer to Karl Pilkington than I would like to be, it was quite amazing. As I stood (Safely. Inside. Beside the fire.) looking out at 15 people in the dark, each with a flaming staff or poi, I was pretty happy I was bringing up a family in Dunedin.

To read more about this fire-spinning workshop with Josh (and loads more workshops and experiences) go to

- Kate Gray

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