Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Flow Arts Institute.
Juggling & Flow Arts: Different Philosophies
Vancouver in 2010, some of the jugglers, hoopers and poi spinners got together in a little cafe and started to create Madskillz Vancouver – Flow, Juggle, Spin. The goal was simple. Create a festival that would merge the ideals of juggling with flow. They aren’t different, we thought.
But we were wrong. The ideologies between the two are different. These differences seem subtle, it’s just about different props, right? But, this crew learned through hours of discussions and meetings and some trials and tribulations that the ideologies between Juggling communities and Prop Spinning Communities are not the same. The difference of props is not what makes jugglers and Flow Artists different. The differences lies in philosophies. Our crew eventually found political middle ground and Madskillz became successful.
From that experience, I have drawn some inferences of the differences between the two worlds, and why they don’t always merge. Although the two worlds revolve around movement with props, there is an inherent differences in cultures. Not unlike the Kinsey Scale of Sexual Behavior There is a scale in variations of ideologies between Flow Artist – Juggler. Not everyone fits into either community model squarely, but some people stringently fall on one side or the other, and many of us are somewhere in between. On a scale of juggler to flow, there is specific ideas that are immersed in each culture. For some relevant comparison, on this scale, Anthony Gatto is a Zero, and Nick Woolsey is a 6.
So, what are these differences?
Capitalism vs. Socialism
Flow festivals value teachers, workshops, sharing and building each other up and doing things together at the same time. They have opening circles to connect and introduce everyone. They go from workshop to workshop following a daily schedule that everyone follows at the same time, taking a timeout for lunch breaks. They pay teachers and expect that your workshop be well established and clear. They expect teachers to perform, but the performance isn’t why they pay you, and can be more a simple demonstration of skill rather than a completely put together professional act.
Flow arts festivals tend to skew towards a capitalist ideology. Groups like Business for Flow Artists, and ideas that coordinators get paid to do their festivals is more prevalent. It does not take away from the community spirit, as many feel good about the people getting paid for their work.
Juggling festivals value performers and individuality. They arrive whenever they want to at any time during the festival, they have individual schedules, and take lunch whenever they are hungry. They connect to each other on a one-to-one basis based on if they are interested in each others skillz. Juggling festivals pay performers but expect them to teach. The workshops are available, but rarely pre-scheduled prior to the festival, and many people don’t even go to the workshops and just spend time juggling on their own learning from each other in a more organic fashion.
Jugglers tend to be socialist in nature, they don’t pay their coordinators and don’t believe coordinators should be paid for their work. They do it only for the love of the party! The only people who get paid in the juggling festival are the performers. The conventions are mostly “run by jugglers for jugglers”. See the British Juggling Convention model.
Hierarchy in the Realms
Hierarchy* in the Flow Arts world seems to be more often about capital made, promotional nuance and “successes” as an artist. Success is about business, sustainable models of making a living and the amounts of students you can acquire. Leveling up in tech skills is done to share with students. Often, this means attracting new members to the community, having a recreation based class and having a show that appeals to a commercial audience.
Hierarchy in the juggling world is based on technical skill. The juggling world has many competitions & world records to prove those who are the best at the craft. Their classes are often considered ‘Master Classes’ and teach to an intermediate skill level, and rarely teach recreationally. (Many jugglers I know believe it’s below them to teach children). Learning technique is the main goal and success is about having a technically proficient show with boundary pushing skills that no one has seen before.
Practice: Technical or Casual?
Flow Artists are more casual about practice. When they get together it’s about bonding with each other, making up silly ideas, having fun and being the the flow of the moment. If they are not interested in being social then the practice is about connecting with themselves in a holistic way. They are free of self-consciousness, fully immersed in the prop and their body movement. They are not considering the outside appearance of their work, since it is about connection to their inside self. Flow Artists spend more time on their business models, their classes, their tutorial videos, community building and their promotion than they do practice.
Jugglers practice technique more, and do so obsessively. They are focused on the outside appearance of their technique and how it looks to others at all times. They use mirrors to increase self-consciousness of their movements. They are focused on their bodies in a descrete way, disconnecting different sections of the body in relation to the specific movement for the desired aesthetic. They bond by showing new conceptual ideas, aka impressing each other. They exchange ideas about technique, to learn from each other then go and try their new idea 100 times in a corner to get it perfect. They are fully focused, but it’s more about how to get it right for a later time, and less focused on how they feel in that moment. Jugglers spend almost all their time on technique, and are more interested in spending their time perfecting their juggling for an act or a full show. They also do community building (conventions & clubs) so they can share skills with each other.
There is a drastic difference in the ratio of Male to Female between Flow Arts festivals and Juggling festivals. (There are differences in European juggling festival scene, but isn’t hugely different, considering in 17 countries, the EJA doesn’t have a single female country representative, or female member of the Board of Directors). Hooping Festivals are feminine dominated, juggling festivals are masculine dominated. Hooping usually falls on the 6 range of the scale of juggling to flow. Juggling, obviously is at the 0 baseline. Poi, on the other hand, was once so female dominated that, as Isa GlitterGirl states in this thread men would say that it’s “Too feminine” for a man to do. By about 2005, this changed, and now, the large majority of people spinning poi is male. Poi became very technical, and it’s place on the juggling to flow scale changed from all flow, to very close to juggling. And since those olden days of rejection from the juggling world, It has largely been accepted in the juggling world now, to the point where many people have begun juggling 5 poi. Different props have different appeal to genders – staff spinning, fire fans, etc. each have dominate gender biases.These different gender dynamics changes the atmosphere of the of the festivals a lot in the ways described above.
Holistic or Technical Growth?
The Flow Arts are focused on the process of learning and growing and becoming a more whole self. It’s goals focus not on the result of practice, but the expression and how we get to a higher level together. It considers where we came from and where we are going, and that where you are now is a part of a process. You gain the most respect by giving honestly, authentically and fully to the community. Your participation is the goal.
The juggling festivals do find those values, but the result of your practice and technique is the main goal. The moment of demonstration is the most important in the grand scheme of things. Your connections are interesting, and the friendships are tight, but you are the most respected if you can perform in that moment you get on stage (or say “hey look at this!”).
The audience at a Flow festival is focused on their expression of self and the grace of the person in their moment to shine. The specific goal of the community is how that person adds to the community, and how they are growing within that community. The Juggling Festival Scene can be critical – they have a “been there, seen that” attitude because they focus on technique. The basic techniques have usually been done before.
Age Old Discussions
The differences in philosophies seem small at first, but they have been creating a rift between the communities. It’s hard to find your flow and enjoy a playful attitude around someone else who is jaded and has “seen it all before”. The ignition for Flow Artists is the child-like wonder at a toy that they can lose themselves in, it gives them motivation to practice, with joy and playfulness that comes with innocence. The juggling community considers itself sophisticated and wishes other people would join them in their knowledge, trying to elevate everyone to that level of sophistication. But if you are jaded and you have seen it all before, it’s boring to watch shows that haven’t researched the history of the arts. To the jugglers it’s more important to be new and innovative because they get more inspiration through determined work and new ideas. You can’t be innovative unless you are aware of what has come before you. Jugglers technical competitiveness drives them to practice hard and nail the wickedly difficult tricks.
The juggling community focuses on the specific manipulation itself and as a side effects discovers the relationship to themselves and the world. The flow community discovers relationships and as a side effect levels up in their skills as object manipulators.
The differences between the Jugglers and Flow Artists is larger than just the props. It is an argument humans have been having since the dawn of time. It’s the differences between the common arguments in humanity, intellect vs intuition, individual vs group priorities, holistic vs discrete thinking styles, masculine and feminine, yin and yang. The truth is they need each other. Those who embody both of the ideals are the most whole artists.
*Not everyone participates in hierarchies on either side, but there is definitely many conversations on either side to this nature.