Breaking down the concepts of clean technique into digestible information is necessary for those of us who haven’t learned how to be graceful yet, and want to learn! To read the first part of this essay read: Considering Clean Technique Part 1
1. Learn to have an eye for clean technique
Most of us didn’t start off as trained dancers, and will never be trained as dancers. Yet, juggling and Flow Arts are essentially dances with props. Our communities need to start looking towards dance theory to break down our techniques for creating graceful and complete work.
Go take a look. Open up 5 tabs and do a google image search of dancers, fire spinners, jugglers, hula hoopers and finally yoga and try to see differences in the lines of each school of thought. What do you see?
What I see, in general, is this: Jugglers often break their lines at the elbow when they go to throw, and their torso and legs are create rectangle shapes. Dancers look like they are floating through the air effortlessly creating a variety of shapes and forms and emotions. Hoopers are in between jugglers and dancers in that they create intentional shapes with their body but aren’t at the level of ballerina yet… Although, there is exceptions to this rule, in particular Marta Paley.
Watch a variety of youtube channels on ballet, contemporary dance and rhythmic gymnasts. Looking for lines is how you develop your eye for lines. Watch how they use their feet and their hands. Try to understand what muscles they are using to achieve these lines. Go see shows.Start being aware of your own body and think about what lines you are creating in training. Video yourself and compare. Feel what your body knows and slowly begin to let it enter you. First, you might want to start with balance.
There is nothing wrong with the juggler’s rectangles vs the yoga poses or the dancers, although, it does limit expression of the self. That said, it is clean tech if it follows the rules to keep those lines in order, and follows the remaining rules below.
Jugglers create lines too, they are just different versions of lines
When you watch these performers, are they wobbling to try to keep their props in line? Do they have control of their body above their feet, or do they look like they could fall at any moment? Do they stumble, appear dizzy or make abrupt motions like they stopped themselves from falling? Unless you’re watching a clown show a lack of balance is not a great attribute!
Having a strong sense of balance and control over your body gives you that feeling of effortlessness that helps you glide along the floor. A strong sense of balance comes from abdominal muscles, so start your 30 day abs challenge now. You won’t regret doing the work. Abs are the base of your entire alignment. Balance itself requires practice too. Many yoga poses will help you with this too!
Alignment should be something needs to be done every day, like we do our juggling and flow tricks.
Here are some instructions fromVarsity.com:
“Stand with their feet together, hands by their sides, and go from the top down of how they should be holding their bodies:
Lifted chin, elongated neck, eyes off the floor
Shoulders pressed naturally down and back
Rib cage closed, as if there was a safety pin holding it together
Stomach muscles engaged
Hips held even and level
Knees relaxed, not locked
Feet parallel or turned out (remind them that their turnout comes from their hips, with their knees in a line over their toes)”
This exercise will help you achieve the engagement of the core muscles necessary to move, but should not leave you stiff and unmoving.
4. Direct stops
You and your props should always be in control. This means you should be able to stop on a dime at any point in a run, a jump or a pirouette. You should also be able to stop your prop. Stalling mid spin, stopping a roll or catching a ball without spinning to correct, fudging on the spot or bouncing is a demonstration in control and shows your knowledge of your instrument. Stopping is directly linked to balance, and speed and if you start to loose control over either, you will not be able to demonstrate control!
5. Speed Control
Knowing how to go both fast and slow is important for any performance. This helps you demonstrate a sense of rhythm and emotion. Going slowly is the more difficult than going fast, so you should always attempt to go slower in practice. Like alignment, you can do daily exercises that help you learn this. I enjoy pretending that I am in a movie and someone has hit the slow motion button. Try this without a prop, and once you get the feeling of your body moving in slow motion, start working with your prop. What is the most difficult part for you to do slowly? Whatever is the most difficult is your weakness – work on it.
Here’s a practice video of me working on slow motion contact juggling
Presentability can come in different forms. It refers to the fact that you should be able to present this to an audience in the best possible way so the most people see your intention, control, emotion and lines. Holding the ball high so people far away can see. Don’t cover your face, or put your back to the audience. These are rules of presentability. Video tape your work to check. Most new phones have cameras, and if you are working on a trick that you are going to present, you should check with video if you are doing so in a presentable way. There is almost always room for improvement, so when you look at the video, go through this list of 10 ideas and see if you could improve your work.
Creating defined shapes with your body that are intentional and easy to follow is important to aesthetic. Be careful of lazy elbows, toes or knees. Also watch for tension in the shoulders (shortening the neck) and then re-check that you are leading with your core muscles. Pointing your toes or fingertips help lengthen a line. Look past the line. Imagine each line you create extending through your body to infinity and beyond. This will also help your presence fill the space on a stage. See the shape you make with mirrors. Extend. When you come back in and collapse that shape really collapse everything into a tight little ball. Things look dirty if they are supposed to be stretched, but they are a little collapsed, or if they are supposed to be collapsed and you forgot to tuck everything in. You must always be aware of what shape your body is making and feeling the purpose and reason throughout your whole body.
“Extension In ballet terminology … if a dancer is said to have ‘nice extensions’ then it refers the clarity, height and strength…”
Ok, ok, I don’t expect us to all be doing the splits and become ballet dancers but, we should use this concept to start to understand the difference between a lazy line and a long line. flexibility and strength are the defined characteristics of extensions, and if it is your leg, or your arm or your fingers, you should always consider extending everything to the fullest degree.
8. Clean Lines & Prop Tech
This is prop specific, and should certainly be known if you are familiar in your field of work. Each prop has different rules, but some are similar. First, you should be following the exact same distance, curves and lines when one prop is following the other. If you see a 5 ball pattern and the balls aren’t following each other in a figure 8 motion at the same height and speed, then it is considered unclean and out of control. The same is true for poi. If you are isolating a prop in relation to another prop the distance between the two must stay consistent or they are no longer isolated to each other. Things that are more obvious and taught in most workshops is clean planes. This is especially true for for poi, staff and hoop. Drew Batchelor is famous for his words for multiball contact is “every click is a mistake”. I would go further to say in 1 Ball Contact body rolling that every bump is a mistake. If you are using a diabolo the axis should be straight. When unicycling, most people use their arms for extra balance, and when it’s done badly people look like they are swimming. Turning to correct your movement shows you are not in control. Moving your feet unintentionally is obvious to an outsider. Again, looking to the top people in your field will help you develop a good eye for technique, this time, it’s more specific to what you are trying to achieve and the prop you are studying.
9. No jerky action with the body
Dropping is the most obvious break in a juggler or Flow Artist’s technique, but fumbles, bumbles, stumbles are also problematic. As we said before, unequivocal stops that are balanced and instant are what you are striving for in your work. If it takes you 5 seconds to get the balance then you are not quite graceful yet. If a juggler doesn’t cradle their catches well the object will bounce out of their hand.
Basically any involuntary movement shows a lack of grace that you should hope to clean up in the future. You really want to walk, throw, and spin like you and your props are floating. Always lead with the toes and balls of the feet. You cannot achieve proper balance on your heels, and walking from your heels makes your whole body bounce with a subtle jerking feeling. You cannot reach full extensions if you aren’t walking from toes. Good transitions between each trick is also important and shows sophistication in your work.
Just like the actual Flow Art itself, one must repeat and practice dance technique to retain the gracefulness of it. Dedicated time in your practice to learning and cleaning your technique should be a fundamental part of your practice time and energy in order to continue learning about your body.
Cleaning up technique is nowhere near as fun as achieving a new trick for the first time. It takes repetition and an enormous amount of work, but it’s worth the effort for the grace you will achieve.
In the end, clean tech is about having sophistication, control and achieving elegance. If you reach this level in your work you will become a leader in your field. Keep your shapes and colors simple, and your patterns consistent. Other aesthetic ideas include: symmetry, asymmetry, the golden ratio, efficacy of movement (like in Alexander Technique), repeating identifiable patterns and variations of patterned themes.
Dawn Dreams juggled since she was 8 years old, but was always alone when she practiced in her youth. In 2002, when she finally found the community of spinners in Toronto she gained a sense of connection, which driven her to foster community ever since. She moved to Vancouver in 2003 and immediately connected with the fire scene and juggling clubs there, attending her first juggling festival in Victoria 2005 and began busking. The following summer of 2006, she based herself in The Hangar and toured through European juggling festivals for 5 months in the UK, France and finally EJC Ireland. When she returned, she began co-organizing the next Victoria Juggling festival in 2007 & 2008 and then co-founded the Madskillz Vancouver festival. She has been deeply tied to the SPARK! Circus, The Busking Project, Vancouver Busker Festival and the Ministry of Manipulation. Her dedication to documenting the Flow Arts and juggling scenes, and bringing community together has driven her work for over thirteen years.
Currently living in France, Dawn continues to work with directors creating new acts, also filming tutorials on her youtube channel, and writing to enhance the wider world of Flow Artists.