More than a hobby, these arts bring the flow


By Ashley Zelazoski, Staff Writer

Dance is a human’s most simple form of expression and release. We all know of ballet, hip hop, and jazz, but not many are familiar with flow. On the surface level, flow arts may be perceived as just an odd hobby — adults playing with fancy lights, props, and fire is definitely deviant from how others may spend their free time.  However, flow arts are so much more than that. Flow arts provide a sense of community, sometimes a source of income, and for many, flow arts can be used as a form of therapy. Many of those who practice will describe them as “movement meditation” in the sense that they easily get lost in their prop and the movements come naturally to them, flow becomes second nature.

If you are not immersed in the lifestyle of music and art festivals, the concept of flow arts may be a new one. Essentially, flow arts is the encompassing term for movement-based art forms typically performed with a prop. Some popular forms of flow are juggling, hula hooping, yoga, aerial, and fire spinning or eating. Although the arts are popular amongst those who attend these festivals, they have a rich history that cannot be pinpointed to just one culture and can be seen depicted in cave drawings in Ancient Egypt.

In modern day America though, the heart of flow arts is in the jam band and electronic dance music scene. Festivals are the grounds in which flow artists thrive and it is the season that they all anticipate eagerly. It is the time for hoopers, poi, and fan spinners to showcase what they have drilled over the winter and fall months. Not only do they get to show off their individual talents, but it is a great time for artists to collaborate and pick up ideas from each other. The sense of community that comes with flow arts is a great one. Social media is a big motivator for this. Many flow artists are self-taught. Yes there are yoga and pole dancing classes, but it is not very common to see hula hooping or poi spinning classes. This is where social media comes into play. Instagram is flooded with flow artists and that is where many will go to derive inspiration. There are contests put on by influential names in the flow arts communities, prop giveaways, tutorials, and an overwhelming sense of support by people who may live across the world from you. While social media definitely has its downsides because it is very easy to compare your progress and appearance to others in the community, the benefits outweigh that.

It is a well-known fact that activity and movement is not only good for our physical health, but mental as well. Movement reduces stress and depression while increasing serotonin and energy. Flow can also benefit the mind by creating new neural pathways through dynamic and rapid-fire decision making. Flow gets its name from the natural movements that the body and mind creates, the immersion into these movements is what many performance artists will describe as “the flow state.” This is the point where to the performer there is nothing else in the world besides their prop and the music that engulfs them.

Hula hooper and pole dancer Lindsay Lopardo describes the flow state saying: “[The flow state] is an intense feeling of ecstasy and release. The excitement that follows perfectly nailing a technical combo that I have drilled for hours is incomparable to any other… It is a great sense of achievement.”

This is a prime example of the boost of serotonin that movement can create. Flow artists drill for hours on end and are extremely prideful when their hard work pays off. This hard work can manifest itself in more ways than one. There is the self gratification —  seeing family and friends amazed and in awe by how you move — and a few artists are able to work gigs and make money to perform their art at festivals, concerts and other events.

Lopardo explained the experience of working paid gigs. “It is nerve-wracking the first couple of times. Your stomach is on the ground when you see how many fellow artists and peers are going to be watching you…The adrenaline rush of being on stage with some of my favorite artists wipes all the fear and worry away.”

Once Lopardo felt that she had mastered the hoop, she gravitated to a new prop, the pole. While many may have negative preconceived notions about strippers and pole dancing, there is no doubt that pole dancing is an art form and takes immense skill and strength. “I definitely received backlash from some close friends and family when they found out I was pole dancing in my free time for fun and then later on for work,” Lopardo said. “It is my career now, I get to express myself in the most raw way possible and I get paid to do it. It may not be the path for everyone, but it has opened many doors for me and I am extremely grateful for that.”

You can see on social media and in content produced by big celebrities — for example, Lil Nas X, that pole is  becoming more widely accepted but many pole dancers will claim that there is a lot more work to be done before they feel truly welcomed in society and the flow arts community.

Overall, flow is much more complex than a fun little hobby to kill time. While for a few lucky ones that have the skills to turn this art form into a career path, the rest of those who participate incorporate flow into their daily lives to relieve stress and to better their body and mind. Flow arts is for everyone and if you ever want to try it there is a community with open arms ready to guide you along the way of your flow journey.