Savitri talks to Punya about her poi ‘business’.
If ever you have been involved in the corporate world you must have been fed with expressions such as ‘be pro-active’, ‘plan’, and more nonsense. As if things in reality happened with the following plan: do your market research, invent a product, find a producer, find a distributor, do your advertising and get rich!
It would be interesting to find out how many products came onto the market according to this plan but, at least in the sannyas world, things mostly happen in a flow, very much like in the case of Savitri’s business. I am not sure if I should use the world ‘business’ in her case or rather ‘love affair in action’.
It all started in 1995 when I first saw a fire dancer at a small festival in northern Germany. My best friend, Alexandra, and I stood transfixed watching this man. He was swinging two short sticks with fire at both ends. In the dark the fires made beautiful drawings in the air; it was difficult to mentally catch their path which made them all the more intriguing. The dancer’s movements were smooth, strong and harmonious, and he radiated such charisma that we instantly fell in love with him, head over heels. “Wow, let’s learn how to do this!” Alexandra said to me. I just laughed because I used to be so uncoordinated – if in yoga we had to move to the right, it was always me who turned to the left instead! We found out where he trained: in the neighbouring town there was a studio in a youth centre where jugglers met on Wednesdays. We went there the following week in the hope he would teach us all his moves. And he did!
We were so engrossed in fire dancing that we proposed to prepare a show at a friend’s birthday party. There we were, tinkering with the sticks and the wicks, and practicing the moves to a music track we had chosen (later I replaced the sticks with chains to make the movements smoother). Considering that we were beginners, our show was quite successful and we already had the next idea.
About four weeks later there was going to be another party to which about 100 people were invited. This was going to be held in an art studio, not outside, so fire was a no-no. We had seen jugglers use fabrics which shine under UV light so we thought this could be an option. “Now we need a string and a weight to attach the chiffon tail to.” We experimented a lot – we were by then already the three of us: Alexandra, Claudia and me – I made at least 10 prototypes to find the correct length of string and the correct weight. I also introduced a chain link as a swivel halfway up the string. We three practiced daily and the beautiful UV light show went very well. For my two friends poi dancing had been an interesting, but temporary experience. For me it was different: I had fallen in love with poi dancing and could not stop.
Much later I discovered that the ‘swingers’ had already been invented – albeit on the other side of the planet and centuries ago – and that they had a name: Poi. The Maori from New Zealand have been using them for fitness and concentration. They use a string and a ball – no fire, no tail. We find similarities also in Chinese gymnastics where they use flags attached to sticks.
I continued to meet the jugglers at the youth centre once a week until I started my studies as an occupational therapist, a job I became disillusioned with quite quickly, but liked as a profession. Instead of having individual clients I started teaching my colleagues because the poi can be used efficiently in therapy. At the same time I travelled, and still do, to practically every national and international convention of jugglers and artists where I learn more moves.
In 2000, during my first journey to India, I went holidaying in Goa. On my second day I was twirling my poi on the beach (fire-swings and poi where always in my backpack, wherever I went) when a woman came up to me with a “Can you teach me?” I came to know that she was called Pritamo and that she had about 5 pairs of poi which she had bought from someone, but did not know how to use them. The poi looked more like sausages, something I had never seen before. But of course I could teach her the moves. Within five days, more people came and wanted to learn – we had 4 spare poi. But soon those poi were not enough, so I drove to Mapusa to find some material to make more of them. For three months I gave poi courses in the afternoon, every day! This was the first time that I did something with my own creativity and something I loved doing – and with so much freedom! This was quite an experience.
Back home in Germany I visited a shop specialised in juggling equipment where I saw a set of poi hanging on the wall and muttered, “These are really ugly!” They had three ribbons made from plastic which, for me, were horrible to swing and made a noise I did not like. The shop assistant who was stocking up the shelves close by overheard me, came over and asked, “Why, do you have nicer ones?” “Sure I have!” I replied. “OK, then you have to see our man in the procurement department. But what we would really need is a book about how to swing the poi.”
By that time I had already made sketches of the moves for my courses, just for myself, as a help for teaching. They became the basis for my book. Night after night I drew the sketches and wrote the accompanying text. My house had French windows and by seeing myself in the reflection I was able to make the drawings, but then the text! How to explain what you have to do with your body? I wrote down all the moves which can be explained, but there are more which you can only show live. And then there are combinations which you can create yourself. It took me about a year to get all images and text ready for print.
The company had also given me an order for 300 sets of poi which I made myself. There is a lot of work in each one of them, my hands were aching! Each poi has 3 knots, so that makes 1800 knots for my poor hands. Someone suggested I have them made in Asia – either in China, Taiwan or India. But where to start?
At that time my finances were not in good shape and my bank manager asked me to come in for an appointment. I explained that I’d had many expenses, that I had to purchase the material in advance for my order, and that I was working on a book which took a lot of my time. “You are writing a book? Then I am the wrong person. You need to talk to our business manager.” She got up, I trotted behind her, wondering what this was all about, and we reached the office of the director of the bank.
I repeated my story to him; he looked at me and said, “You need money. How much do you need? OK, I will increase your overdraft limit and you make something out of it!” I walked out of the bank dumbfounded, slowly becoming aware that I had just been gifted with a fountain of possibilities. “Wow, now I can start!” For me it was the confirmation that it was right to follow my heart and that I had the permission to do what I really loved doing, even if it looked ‘just like play’. I could leave behind my conditioning that work and income have to come from a serious job and waved away all the voices of friends who doubted my career choice.
Within 2-3 months I was again in India, this time to find a way to have my poi produced in large quantities. I was lucky to get to know a sannyasin friend who knew a tailor and could have them made for me. With only a few changes the poi have been produced in India for 15 years now by these same people – tens of thousands of poi!
For about 15 years I was kept high afloat by the poi energy. The poi and my book were being sold in Europe, and I gave workshops to a variety of individuals: people who love to be on stage, therapists, teachers, trainers, coaches and people who like to stay fit and have fun. I did shows; I was not only the dancer but also the choreographer, the costume designer and in charge of the UV lighting. I had a rich life, I was healthy and had a trim and elastic body, lived in a nice apartment, had a good car, could afford good organic food and a 3-6 months stay each a year in Pune. I felt rich – and all this while doing what I loved doing the most. I never felt that I was ‘doing’ anything to make it happen.
Since a few years I have started spending part of the year not only in India but also in Hawaii (you guessed it, because of a man!) and now I am full of energy to expand my business to the American market but challenged to do it ‘without doing’. Maybe this time I need a business partner?
The poi are now all over the world. Everybody is playing poi, in all sorts of places. I will go with it as long as I am being asked to perform and if not, I am also open for something new. I always had the feeling that poi dancing was given to me through Osho. They just came into my life and have given me such beautiful years.
Interview by Punya. In the second article we will talk about the benefits of poi dancing for body, mind and soul.
Savitri was born in Germany and studied to become a paralegal and later an occupational therapist. She learned to dance with the poi in 1994. She heard of Osho for the first time in 1995, visited India in 2000 and took sannyas there the following year. Savitri now lives between Hawaii, Germany and India. www.flow-motions.net