Tech Spinning in the Flow Arts

Last week we talked a bit about the concept of “flow” as it pertains to the Flow Arts. This week we’re going to talk about a concept that is sometimes considered to be the flip side of that coin: tech spinning. This is the place where the geeks and obsessives hang out, so if you’re into math, science, or even just deep rabbit holes, this is the place for you!

What is Tech?

Like “flow”, “tech” is one of those words that can be a bit hard to define. It could refer to technique, technology, technical spinning, or any and all of the above.

I first came across the term on an old social networking site called, where a group had been started called Tech Poi. People in this group discussed the theory and far frontiers of what poi was capable of. This was where theorists would take similar elements of different tricks and lay out frameworks to describe them or people would come to share groundbreaking new tricks.

A popular format for flow arts videos has long been the “tech blog”, a summary of movement research conducted by an artist over many weeks or months and presented to the wider flow arts community for review and inspiration. This format was pioneered by Noel Yee and the artists he collaborated with in his travels before being adopted by a wide range of other spinners to display their own work.

To a lot of people, the term “tech” is synonymous with difficulty or complexity, but I prefer to think of it this way:

Tech is a style of spinning that seeks to systematize movement by reducing it down to a series of variables. These variables can be altered to produce, predict, or describe new types of movement. These new movements can be but are not limited to displays of virtuosity or complexity.

The real essence of tech spinning is to take a move you already know and to try and break it apart--to see what you can change to produce something just a little bit different. It’s not unusual for this approach to sometimes yield dozens of new tricks or even a new understanding of how multiple tricks fit together and how one can transition between them.

Why Tech Spinning?

For those of us with the mind for it, tech spinning is an incredible mental exercise like a logic puzzle or math problem. The act of working through multiple possibilities to uncover new ones is a challenge that can energize us and deepen our love of the artform. One of my favorite pastimes at the fire festivals has long been finding a crew of tech spinners to geek out with--to show off our latest tricks and ideas and seek to integrate them into our own understanding.

These geeking circles frequently lead to great collaborations that have helped all of us understand our spinning better and helped other spinners learn the possibilities that awaited them.

I’ll confess I have a special fondness for tech spinning. As I got deeper into my journey as a flow artist, I loved the discoveries I could make with the tool. I felt like a gentleman scientist centuries ago uncovering new and interesting things to share with the world. One of the greatest things this exploration gave me was a love of mathematics, which I had thought I was bad at for most of my life. It turned out I just needed something to relate it to and I will always be grateful to flow arts and tech spinning for opening that door to me.

More recently as many tech spinners have embraced the world of tech/circus fusion, there’s been some efforts to merge the two concepts together. Certainly, with its emphasis on numbers and exotic variations, juggling has a lot in common with tech spinning and it’s no coincidence that many tech spinners have taken up juggling with their tool of choice.

It should also be said that with its focus on braininess and novelty, a lot of people find the tech spinning world to be overly competitive, elitist, or even condescending. It certainly doesn’t help that it does tend to attract people with analytical brains that can seem cold, distant, or aloof to their peers.

Tech Frameworks

If you’re interested in exploring the world of tech, here are a few resources you should check out:

The Vulcan Tech Gospel, or VTG, is the brainchild of a rotating cast of spinners based in Oakland, California at the Vulcan Lofts. At its core, VTG is about combining the concepts of timing and direction as well as the shapes created by spinning flowers to find transitions between patterns as well as the logical rules underpinning them. Because timing and direction is universal to all spinning that involves two props, VTG is applicable to a huge variety of tools, including twin hoops, double staff, fans, and so very many more. Plus which, it’s one of the few aspects of flow arts culture that is extensively documented, so there are many resources available. I did a video introduction to the topic a few months back--you should go check it out!

Another example is 9-Square Theory. This is the brainchild of former helicopter pilot and LanternSmith founder Charlie Cushing. Like VTG, 9-square theory explores the transitions between shapes but does so by assigning them positions on a grid, identifying transitions by their origin, destination, and purpose. This framework holds up in single prop as well as dual prop scenarios and has proven to have applications in fields as diverse as tutting and Laban Movement Analysis.

Tech spinners have created simulators, in-depth guides and papers, artwork, charts and many more items. If you’re interested in digging deeper, a partial list of tech-related flow arts groups and resources can be found in the description of this group.

What are your favorite tech frameworks or resources? Let me know down in the comments section!

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