The Flow Arts Will Change Your Life and This Is Why.
I first encountered the Flow Arts on a cloudy night in San Francisco. A friend had invited me to a “fire jam;” a secret event at an undisclosed location on the beach. Here people would be performing poi fire dancing. The thought of dancing with fire props brought to mind the Hawaiian fire spinners I had witnessed as a kid in Disney World and on TV. But did people really do this for their fun Saturday night activity in San Francisco? I was at first a bit reluctant to go to the event, not fully comprehending what I was about to encounter. However, as I entered the fire circle I was immediately drawn to the beauty and majesty of the ballet-like dancers gracefully spinning their beautiful props en feu to amazing music. These were no Cirque de Soleil performers either, these were regular people just like you and me. Yes, the tech folk of Silicon Valley were out spinning fire. Their prop types ranged; fire hoop, staff, fire fan, and my soon to be favorite; poi. I was immediately drawn to the art form, and I had to learn more.
The Flow Arts Institute defines the practice of flow as “the intersection of a variety of movement-based disciplines including dance, juggling, fire-spinning, and object manipulation.” And it turns out that the Bay Area flow community partaking in this discipline has grown considerably large over the past 15 years. Global gatherings, such as the infamous Burning Man, have fostered the spirit of the art form throughout the Bay Area and beyond.
I wouldn’t encounter the flow arts again until later that year when I came across the Flowtoys cart at the annual Lightning in a Bottle Festival in California. Flowtoys is a Bay Area company who designs light toys and props powered by led technology in lieu of fire. Spinning glowing props like flow wands and led poi is quite an awe inspiring experience (especially when your favorite music is playing). I eventually caved in and bought a pair a led pod poi a few months later. I began carrying my poi around with me wherever I would go and it became somewhat of an obsession.
Using your non dominant hand to brush your teeth is supposed to give your brain a good “workout.” Similarly, Flow has you thinking on both sides of your body simultaneously.
The Flow Arts are a “new” performance art to be mastered with skillful technique. Performing motions with both hands and arms simultaneously is difficult to get down at first, but with positive encouragement and good tunes you can fall into a groove soon enough. Flow represents free spirited self exploration while simultaneously fostering a strong community, keeping us all moving and, well, flowing.
I have since opted into a poi bootcamp, led by Isa Isaacs of the Temple of Poi, or GlitterGirl as she is known amongst the San Francisco flow community. Isa is an extremely talented and accomplished poi artist who also happens to be a phenomenal instructor. Isa comes from a background in the tech industry, and she has been performing and teaching flow for the last 15 years. The mission of Temple of Poi is to foster “a school and community dedicated to empowering artists to gain greater facility with their body movement and increased body awareness through the use of poi and other flow tools.” Isa breaks down spinning into digestible building blocks and encourages her students to break out of their shell through goal setting and performance based work. I highly recommend her classes if you’re located in the Bay area.
Meditative in nature, the practice of spinning poi helped heal my relationship with my partner when we embarked in classes together. It brought about a sense of courage and self confidence that I was lacking during a difficult time.
The little ballerina and figure skater buried down deep inside me became unleashed when I started spinning my glowing props. It musters some strange child like wonder while simultaneously inspiring confidence. I have integrated the practice into my daily training regimen as a way to move about wherever I am. The tiny props are portable, so making a quick breakaway from your office desk, or playing in the park is an easy and surefire way to ensure you keep moving throughout the day. Making geometric patterns and flowers with your body is both beautiful to the spectator and uplifting to the practitioner. The practice is now part of my daily exercise for physical and mental clarity. Even with a few more tricks under my belt, poi is still as challenging and mysterious to me as the first night I encountered it, but that’s a good thing because I know that poi will be a lifetime journey.
Would you try adding the Flow Arts to your workout regimen if given the opportunity?