Exuro Piechocki’s recent announcement of “Top 40 Flow Artist” voting awards has re-sparked a debate I’ve been watching and personally grappling with for the last 5 years.
Am I Flow Artist or am I a Juggler?
Before we start, let’s get something I consider vital to this discussion out of the way.
Language and how we use it to identify ourselves and our tribes is important to many human beings, myself included. If it’s not important to you, then you don’t have a dog in this fight and you can either waste your time arguing a topic you don’t actually care about, see yourself to the door and have a nice day, or allow your curiosity to take the reigns and see how deep this rabbit hole goes for the ones, like myself, who do care.
“We’re all mad here.”
I’m going to take a wide view here, wider than any written view I’ve seen on the topic. People often try to narrow in on things like prop types (poi vs. clubs), manipulation styles (spin vs. toss), region (American vs. European), etc. and I think there are worthwhile nuances in these arguments that are valid, but we’re zooming out a bit here. Setting the bag down, pulling out the drone, and going skyward for an aerial view. Higher than siteswap 9, higher than a big top’s apex, above the treeline to the space where props no longer exist and people become groups.
- Your local spin jam. Your regional circus retreat. The center you learn and train in. The Facebook group that specializes in discussions around your niche. All of these are pieces of the puzzle in who your people are and where your people gather.
- The fit, color and style of the clothing you wear. The accessories you adorn. Your grooming preferences. All of these are pieces of the puzzle in who your people are and what your people look like.
- The words you use. The body language. The gestures. How you initiate and terminate conversations and even relationships. All of these are pieces of the puzzle in who your people are and how your people communicate.
- The people you idolize. The organizers and leaders of your gatherings. Those who you have given authority. All of these are pieces of the puzzle in who your people are and who your people follow.
This list goes for a very long time. It’s the list of attributions of a community (Seth Godin would refer to them as Tribes, if that helps you understand, use Tribes instead) and that’s what both Flow Arts and Juggling are–they are communities of people. Communities that have social norms and taboos, idols of worship, insider terminolgy, fashion, places of congregation, and more.
Think about these
things as you mingle
with other object
Do your people speak in terms of Timing and Direction? Siteswap? Is it Butterfly, Tog/Opp, you don’t care about naming tricks, or you don’t know because that type of trick doesn’t even exist in your community? Why doesn’t it exist? Maybe because your community has disdain for a particular prop? Or doesn’t find value in interacting with 2 props at a time?
Answering these types of questions will help you begin to drill down who your people are and what your people value. Because Flow Artists and Jugglers have interacted with each other and other communities that fall under the umbrella of Circus Disciplines, there will be overlap. But if you start paying attention, you will start noticing differences.
Here’s a list of some of differences I’ve noticed as an identified member of both Juggling and Flow Arts communities (amongst many others). Remember, as we interact these differences may disappear, blend, or create entirely new things. Maybe you’ve already seen this in action. Instead of nitpicking this list, consider it and then, if you’re interested, take a closer look at things like these the next time you’re at an object-manipulation-oriented gathering. I’m positive you will find them once you put effort into looking.
“I’m not saying any of these are absolutes.”
Like myself, you probably find yourself to be a mix and match of these attributes regardless of how you identify. These examples are just trends, and a snapshot of them at that. Don’t take it as gospel, just think about it.
Jugglers – Gym shorts / Jogging Pants
Flow Artists – Harem Pants / Fire Safe
Neither – Jeans
Note: i’ve found most movement communities in general find jeans to be uncomfortable (skaters have been a notable exception, but they serve a functional purpose there in protection from falls). Yet, I specifically wear jeans–like all the time. I’m not going to look at this section and say “THIS IS WRONG BECAUSE I WEAR JEANS!” Instead, recognize that there are outliers in any social system. I’m just one of them in this particular instance. That’s okay. Trends still exist. In fact, if you find them, you have an opportunity to stand out by bucking them.
Jugglers – Gym shoes
Flow Artists – Bare feet
Neither: Dress Shoes (unless part of a costume)
Note: Look at this from the broad perspective of footwear choice. Yes, you may prefer bare feet when you’re practicing foot juggling, for example, but do you walk around the fest barefoot because its your general preference? Think about it.
Jugglers – Focus on indoor spaces, eg: gymnasium
Flow Artists – Focus on outdoor spaces, eg: fire circle
Neither: Banquet Halls
Note: As more Flow Artists become interested in incorporating Toss into their practice in the last few years, there’s been a shift for inclusion of more indoor spaces.
Jugglers – None/Headphones/Pass the Aux
Flow Artists – DJs
Jugglers – No trend that I’ve found
Flow Artists – New Electronic Music
Jugglers – Verbal acknowledgement and/or gesture
Flow Artists – Hugs
Note: Especially consider how you greet people the first time you meet them. Not just long-time friends.
Jugglers – Government Name (ie: Francis Brunn, Anthony Gatto, Wes Peden, Tony Pezzo)
Flow Artists – Nickname / Pseudonym (ie: Dizzy Dynamic, Drex, Lux Luminous, Spades)
Note: Because both Jugglers and Flow Artists congregate online using Facebook, this can get tricky due to Facebook’s name policy enforcements in the last few years. I would look at Instagram as perhaps a better indicator for examples due to its lack of government name enforcement policy.
Jugglers – Have a tradition (though not a rule) of naming tricks after people (eg: Mill’s Mess, Seb’s Mess, Rube’s Revenge, Sam’s trick).
Flow Artists – Have no tradition of trick naming after people. Are sometimes overtly presciptivist (VTG, L atomics, requiring plane inclusion in trick communication).
Both – While Siteswap originated from the Juggling community, it has taken roots with Flow Artists interested in Toss, as it ties in nicely to their often prescriptivist nature.
Note: As world’s collide, we find that one trick has different names based on the community or even region you learned it in. Example: Wall plane flats vs wall plane no beats. They are the same trick, but Jugglers prefer the former and Flow Artists the more prescriptivist latter. Also, the same word can be used to describe completely different tricks. Example: A Contact Juggler’s Butterfly is completely different than a Poi Spinner’s Butterfly. This came about not just because of different props, but because of 2 completely separate communities not communicating with each other, understandably not having enough foresight to see that they may one day come in contact and cause breakdowns in communication.
Jugglers – Dominated by Balls, Clubs, and Rings with some minor outliers
Flow Artists – Dominated by Poi, Staff, and Hoop with many medium outliers. Also inclusive of non object-orientented artforms like Dance, Aerials, Yoga
Neither: While not opposed, it’s a rare sight to see things like Yo-Yo, Kendama, and Cardistry in either community. These props have their own communities that currently serve them.
Jugglers – Dominated by 3+ objects
Flow Artists – As of 2017, generally focused on 1-3 objects at a time
Jugglers – Might do it for a gig
Flow Artists – Do it as a core part of their expression
These are just a small few of the differences I’ve noticed between communities. Traditions, rituals, games, performances, and so much more could be broken down in terms of “Juggling/Flow Arts/Neither/Both” in terms of origin and current practice. Take your eyes off your props for a moment and look around. You’ll find them, too.
One last thing I want to mention is the insistence that Flow Arts is a Western phenomenon and doesn’t exist anywhere else. While I disagree with this (I feel it’s a spectrum rather than a dichotomy) and have seen Flow Artists and their culture around the world (yay anecdotal evidence), I want to mention that even if it were true–it’s not an argument against the existence of a Flow Arts community. Before the propagation of the Internet, throughout the history of mankind, all communities were regionally focused. If Flow Arts were Western in origin or current existence, that would just make it yet another regional community in the same vein of billions of others that came before it. While it seems clear that the larger tent of Circus and the smaller discipline-focused community of Jugglers are global, that doesn’t actually take anything away from Flow Arts if it were a regional community.
The biggest takeaway for me is that you don’t have to pick one or the other.
Flow Artist or Juggler is a false dichotomy. You are allowed to interact with and be a member of both communities and many more. As holders, explorers, and groundbreakers of broader Circus culture, we are allowed to combine the pieces of this puzzle to best suit our own individual needs. We are allowed to use any and all chunks of our larger community’s creations to better ourselves, our relationships, our niches, our gatherings, and ultimately our lives and the lives of future Circus generations. We are allowed because we are all unified through the path of mastery found in all Circus disciplines.