Flow art: a term used to describe a variety of movement-based disciplines including fire dancing, juggling, fire spinning, object manipulation, hula hooping, yoga, martial arts and more. Common forms include spinning, hooping, juggling, sphere manipulation and fan dance.
It’s Saturday night at Mad Hatters, a small ethnobotanical tea bar in North St. Petersburg, FL. Patrons of the bar sit in clusters under the night stars on the concrete curb. Multiple vendors line the parking lot, selling various art and crystals.
Suddenly, a man steps into the middle of the lot, a tall circular metal hoop in his hands. He lights the wicks on it on fire and starts to spin. The flames bursting around his face, his arms, waist, shoulders and legs twist in a hypnotic pattern. Every bend of his body, every flex of his smooth abs earns a yelp from the crowd, acknowledging his performance. Others soon join in, their hands instruments of art. It’s a weekly gathering for the locals of St. Petersburg who practice this hybrid exercise and meditation known as flow arts. It’s a manipulation of props designed to trigger the mental state of flow.
I listen as my friend Ashley, a flow artist, describes her relationship with this art form. “I tried several forms of it, hoops, staff, and then I held the crossbar in my arms.” She holds out her hands and widens her eyes. “And I just felt its energy and knew, this was it, what was this thing?”
I ask her if she plans on burning and she nods her head yes. What a treat this will be.
“That’s the great thing about it here, you just pick it up and practice. Everyone starts somewhere. There’s a type of flow art for everybody,” she says.
I learn that night all about this exercise. Other props include hoops, poi (balls at the end of strings), wands, staffs, and other objects that you might imagine a juggler would use…only it’s on fucking fire. The flow-arts community has developed rules for fire safety, I learned, but I imagine setting it on fire improves the focus you must have when burning.
It interests me not as a physical feat (which let me tell you, these people were in shape), but as a meditative practice. I watched my friend burn and she lit up. I could tell this made her feel empowered, passionate and sexy. These spinners created spectacular effects with their showmanship. The appeal of its mental benefits renders it a unique art form.
A skill-based movement art naturally brings more of our awareness to the body. As we use our muscles to control props through space and to dance with the props we are engaging in an easy and fun form of exercise. Many flow artists achieve a greater degree of fitness, and are even driven to do additional strength and flexibility training simply to perform better at their art.
Needless to say, I’ll be back many more times.