What are the Flow Arts?

For the past 8 years I’ve been a poi spinner and Flow Artist and the experience has absolutely changed my life. I created my YouTube channel to share my love of this art with the world and hopefully introduce new people to it. So, with your indulgence, I’m going to take the next several weeks to talk about this wonderful artform and its place in our modern world.

First, let’s start out by defining the Flow Arts:

The Flow Arts are a series of movement arts centered around moving with one more more inanimate props, usually referred to as tools, in an aesthetically pleasing way.

These can include, but are not limited to: poi, staves, hula hoops, juggling clubs, rope darts, and many more.

More recently the term has also been used to refer to types of card manipulation, aerial silks, and one-of-a-kind objects used in a skilled fashion.

You can think of the Flow Arts as being the intersection of many other movement arts, including dance, circus, martial arts, and fire spinning. While fire spinning is the gateway for many of us to first learn about the flow arts, it’s actually much more common for people to train, practice, and perform with unlit props.

Many of the tools classified under the umbrella of the Flow Arts are quite old and have deep traditions behind them, but bundling them together under this label is a very recent phenomenon and one that is most commonly done in the United States.

In Europe and parts of Latin America, Flow Arts is either considered a synonym or splinter culture from Circus or not really used at all. The terms prop spinning, object manipulation, and fire spinning are also sometimes used as synonyms for the Flow Arts. Here in the United States, it’s sometimes considered an offshoot of some types of counter-cultures such as music and arts festivals or the electronic dance music circuit.

The word “flow” in Flow Arts comes from the work of Hungarian-born psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi identified a mental state in which a person becomes fully absorbed and immersed in a given task. Many of us think of this state as being “in the zone” and it tends to be accompanied by bursts of great productivity and satisfaction.

Everyone from doctors to lawyers, artists and athletes experience flow in some fashion. For many who practice the flow arts, their goal in working with their prop is to try and attain a flow state in their movement, where they are able to move, dance, and improvise with their tool effortlessly. So why refer to prop spinning as “Flow Arts” when really, all arts incorporate flow to a certain degree?

My own answer to this question is that unlike other art forms, the Flow Arts make flow itself the goal, rather than a tool for accomplishing a goal. But there are as many answers to this question as there are people practicing the arts.

Even if your goal isn’t to attain a flow state, there’s plenty to love about the Flow Arts. It is a great form of exercise that, depending on the tool, can be a powerful core or upper body workout. It can also be a great mental challenge! The deeper you get into learning how to use a given tool, the more likely it is you’ll wind up approaching it as a complex system, breaking down all the variants of a given move that there happen to be. It’s also a great way to make friends--social gatherings for Flow Artists, including spin jams, can be found in most major cities and offer a great way to connect with people who have similar interests. Finally, spinning props is fun! It gives you the chance to flex your creative muscles while also giving your brain and body some exercise. It’s pretty win-win all around.

Flow Artists come from a multitude of backgrounds! We have lawyers, computer programmers, business people, even a few politicians! Some people pursue the Flow Arts full-time, posting content online, selling props, teaching, or hosting events.

The community is still relatively small and underground, but thanks to social media we’re still able to connect with people all over the world. Movement is a universal language and I’ve had the pleasure of trading ideas with people from Kenya, Russia, Japan, Israel, and many more!

If you don’t live nearby any other artists, you can almost certainly connect with people via social media on Facebook Groups, Instagram, or by searching for videos on YouTube.

In the coming few weeks, we’re going to tackle a few of the major concepts in the Flow Arts, examining it as a culture, hobby, and artform. Are you a Flow Artist? Let me know what your favorite part of this art is down in the comments section. 

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