Poi Oh Poi

Karen Macklin takes the temperature of a growing, meditative, and fiery dance form known as poi.

We are sitting in Isaacs' flat, and she is talking about, well, fat.

"So this is like one roll," she says, pinching her belly. "But, like, I can remember a time when I had three."

Isaacs is proud of her bodily transformation, but she's still a ways from her goal: size eight. Her weight comes up in conversation often. It's like the goddess' Achilles' heel.

Bridget Harrison practices poi.
Paolo Vescia
Bridget Harrison practices poi.
Isaacs the teacher.
Paolo Vescia
Isaacs the teacher.

Her pad, which she refers to lovingly as "Evolutionary Manor," is a two-bedroom apartment in the Sunset that she shares with her best friend (and life coach) Jason McClain. Her hair is piled up today in a big clip, her toenails painted pink and purple, and she is making us an intense vegetable juice concoction of ginger, celery, cucumber, kale, beets, and garlic.

Evolutionary Manor is a friendly, lived-in flat with a mainly unfurnished front room, which leaves plenty of space for Isaacs' poi-ing and hoop-ing. Isaacs' housing situation has changed dramatically over the course of the past several years, during which she went from living in a posh 13-room house with a couple of friends when she worked in tech-land to a grungy wall-less warehouse shared by six people after she got fired. Her current place is something of a happy medium between the two.

"At first, I was like, 'I'm going to go back into corporate America, I'm going to make it work out,'" she says, about losing her high-paying job. "But I lost all of my references when I got fired, every single one ....

"I expected to be on that path for the rest of my life; I had no anticipation of ever being derailed by poi. Ever."

Isaacs was in debt when she was fired, and her finances took a major dip; but she's not sorry for it. She talks a lot about being "disintegrated" in the past, about living two separate lives; now, she says, there's no distinction between her play and her work.

"I was an angry, negative, bitter, blame kind of person," she says about her old self. "I was choiceless, that's what it was. The biggest shift in my life was learning I had choices."

These days, poi is the focus of Isaacs' attention, and she has reason to be proud. She started a booming business with an obscure art form during a recession; she's garnered two Circle of Light nominations; and now she is going to be featured in Time Off for Good Behavior: How Hardworking Women Can Take a Break and Change Their Lives, a book by Mary Lou Quinlan due out next year. Isaacs performs regularly across the Bay Area as a dancer and DJ, creates art installations for large-scale events, and has an adoring fan base in San Francisco.

All the same, Isaacs hasn't completely left her past behind. She's still a shrewd, diligent capitalist who openly admits she can't live a "starving artist" life; despite her Zen-like teaching practice, she laments that the business, while prosperous, is still not making six figures.

And she still has a serious verbal edge. If asked about dating, she's dismissive, to say the least. "I don't need a partner. I am a multifaceted individual. I see myself as a revolutionary thinker and a forerunner in who I am and how I push the world," she says. "Most people can't keep up."

And then, of course, there's the weight, which hangs on, fading ever so slowly, like a bad memory.

But what Isa Isaacs wants, really, is to transform, outwardly, into her internal representation of herself: "a sprightly, artistic, powerful, self-reliant, self-dependent, soft, generous, caring, beautiful, compassionate, wise preacher and being, representative of the best in all of us."

"It's totally superhero-ish," she admits.

We're looking at old photos of Isaacs now, of her at her heaviest, eating a massive piece of cake. At first, she seems proud of what she's overcome, then suddenly she gets body conscious again, wondering if she should be holding off on press until she's at her physical prime.

"I've been in this process of being really conscious of how I'm trying to build a personality, like a celebrity personality around myself, so that I can create the publicity necessary to propel the business forward," she says. "And my story will be even more compelling when I'm thinner."

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