Spin Away Your Self-Quarantine Blues With Flow Arts

liam & luis hooping
the video that got me into poi, thanks jon
Kate did her PhD research on the positive effects of poi spinning on physical, cognitive, and emotional health.

What’s so great about flow arts?

Your goals aren’t measured in reps or numbers

(unless you’re trying to beat a juggling record)

I love this session, where Willow and Justin take a relatively intro poi move called a 1.5 beat, and then proceed to figure out how to do it in every possible way.

It’s a gentle introduction to body awareness

Movement arts such as dance are great at building body awareness, but can be so freeform and expressive that it’s more intimidating to start there. Flow arts offers some easier initial structure for movement newbies because you can always pick a trick to do if you don’t feel like dancing.

For more on how body awareness facilitates one's emotional self-awareness and self-regulation, read The Body Keeps The Score (Bessel van der Kolk), a foundational overview on PTSD neuroanatomy, research, and mind-body integrative treatment approaches.Or Trauma and Expressive Arts Therapy (Cathy A. Malchiodi) for more on different expressive arts therapies.

It’s accessible

Most props can be inexpensively DIYed from common hardware store scraps if you don’t have the budget to spend on professionally made props. Flow arts can be practiced anywhere you have a bit of open space, like a living room, backyard, driveway, or public park. Many flow artists freely share knowledge in person or online (but please financially support teachers if you are able).

Agency & customization

You can creatively make up your own goals as you go. While tricks are helpful to provide initial structure for beginners, you might spend different practice sessions working on your footwork and gracefulness, learning neat combos people have posted online, exploring concepts, or just dancing.

my video scrapbook of Firedrums 2019, a.k.a. a real good time

Ok let’s do this

(Flowmies: this is a work in progress, please send me suggestions in the form of Medium private comments)

Props?

Props are the objects you manipulate. With enough skill, anything can be a prop — I’ve seen really great acts using tennis balls in their container, hats, coat racks, and plungers. (Once, I brought some baguettes over to a houseful of jugglers and of course they started balancing them on their faces.)

actually not photoshopped! photo: cindy sparks

What prop should I try?

Quick answer: Poi are a great first prop because they’re easy to DIY out of socks and beans, they have the best codified terminology and largest body of extremely well made online video tutorials for beginners, and they’ll teach you body awareness and timing skills that will cross-transfer to nearly any other prop. If you’re not sure what you want, start there and they’ll enable you to branch out later.

  • Insert inspiration to continue. Plenty of people don’t blast off until they see someone who moves in a really interesting way, and think “OMG I WANT TO MOVE LIKE THAT”. Look at videos until you find a movement style that inspires you. Here’s an inspiration video playlist made by me and some friends. You may also find Instagram practice logs you like via these tags: #flowarts, #flowmiesofearth, #stopdropandspin.
  • Do you have mobility issues? Rope dart is the most full-body prop and involves a lot of lunges. Poi can be shoulder intensive, but is relatively forgiving to the lower body. Staffs are very heavy and can be arm intensive. Hoops are very lightweight. All flow arts are great for strengthening your body in general. However, if you have serious injuries, you should probably avoid certain props at first.
  • You might find that you achieve flow state much better with a particular prop, and this can be a huge motivator. If you like asymmetric shapes, you may prefer rope dart or fans, while if you like symmetric shapes, you may prefer staff or hoop. If you like timing based puzzles, you may enjoy rope-based props like poi and dart. If you enjoy feeling a lot of inertia or you come from a partner dance background, you will probably enjoy dragonstaff. If your motivation level depends on immediate gratification, you may get further starting with a single-wield prop, like staff, instead of a dual-wield prop, like poi.

Where do I get props?

General prop shops

  • Flowtoys — specializes in LED props; known for making the most robust LED capsules on the market, w/ lifetime warranty
  • FlowOnFire — wide range of props, lots of customization options for color and size, amount of options can be a little overwhelming but they’re friendly & will help you out
  • Renegade Juggling — juggling and circus props

Beginner learning resources

Poi

  • Beginner poi series by PlayPoi. (more body-oriented approach)
  • Beginner poi series by Drex. (more pattern-oriented approach)
  • Poi Chi by Nicky Evers.
    (The first few videos are prop-free body alignment/awareness exercises that will help you with any flow movement. Later videos assume you are already comfortable with some poi weaves and same-time transitions.)
  • SpinPoi fundamentals series by Kate Riegle van West.

Practice space & setting

Find a clear space where you can freely swing your arms and props around without breaking anything. A mirror is useful. Breathe deeply. Let your shoulders relax. As you spin for the first time, you will probably tense up, which will make it harder to feel your props’ momentum as an extension of your body. Any time you feel like you’re trying too hard, breathe deeply and take a moment to shake out your shoulders.

Community

Thanks to COVID-19, we’re stuck inside for a while and can’t have our usual in-person jams. Here are some Facebook groups I know of where flow artists & jugglers get together to mash ideas and share resources and practice videos.

Frequently asked questions

I am inherently incapable of doing flow arts because I have no sense of hand-eye coordination / I’m not in shape / I’m not a super sexy badass who owns a fire katana and leather pants. Should I give up before even trying?

NO. FALSE. Neither did any of us before we started practicing a movement art!! Hand-eye coordination and badassery can only be developed through practice, not through being born that way.

What if I look silly? Should I crawl into a corner and hide forever?

We were all beginners once, many of us enjoy teaching beginners, and silliness isn’t frowned upon at all (look how many flow artists are also professional clowns). Please come to a jam some time and observe the advanced flow artists “researching” extremely silly moves that involve falling on the ground, flailing a lot, or flinging a poi under the crotch and missing. We love silly stupid stuff! You are likely the only person actively judging yourself.

be like this elephant and just have fun

When will I stop accidentally slapping myself in the face with props?

The day you stop slapping a prop in the face is the day you stop challenging yourself. However, it will become less frequent over time, and it’ll quickly fade from a fear into a mild routine annoyance as you attain more control and body awareness. This is why we recommend starting with soft, squishy props, like beanbags wrapped in socks, instead of trying to go straight to metal-tipped fire whips. You can even make props out of plushies!

Do you ever accidentally hit yourself in the face with fire?

Once in a while. It’s kind of annoying, but, if you take fire safety relatively seriously and use well-designed fire props, it is actually not as scary as it sounds. I promise there are good explanations for this, but I’m not going to tempt you to try fire until you feel comfortable spinning things that aren’t on fire.

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rhetoricize

rhetoricize

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autotelic polymath with an overwhelming compulsion to reverse engineer things I’ve never tried before