Maybe you’ve just discovered flow and you want to learn more, or maybe you’ve heard the term flow before, but you don’t really know what it’s about, or maybe you stumbled here by accident while free-falling in a lockdown induced Google rabbit hole. Whatever brought you here, if you’re new to flow arts, you’ve come to the right place.
Learning anything new can be a daunting process, with new phrases, terminology, and an overload of information to wrap your head around. That’s why we’ve decided to create a series of intro to flow pieces with some of the essentials to help you get started. This article will cover the basics of what flow is and introduce you to some of the more common props in the flow arts world.
When people talk about flow, or flow arts, they’re generally referring to a movement-based art form involving the manipulation of objects commonly referred to as props. Flow combines aspects of martial arts, dance, and circus with object manipulation to form an activity that anyone (yes, anyone!) can enjoy.
Flow arts includes a wide range of props, from stunning day-flow or practice props, to LED varieties and of course, fire props, and we appreciate them all! Today, we’ll take a quick peek at what these props are, with more detailed features to come in the not-too-distant future.
Poi are strings with a large ball attached to one end, and often a handle at the other end. Poi are most commonly manipulated in pairs but they can be spun in threes or more too. Poi originated right here in Aotearoa and were traditionally made from a ball crafted out of swamp plants attached to a woven flax rope.
Historically, poi were used in Māori action songs and dances, and helped to develop skills that could also be used during weapons training and fighting. Traditional poi are still widely used in New Zealand in kapa haka (Māori performing arts), and for games and exercise. As poi grew in popularity and spread across the globe, techniques from other cultures fused with traditional poi to create a new style of spinning.
Learning curve: poi can be a relatively easy prop to learn, plus there’s a huge amount of information, tutorials, and resources available.
Shop poi: here
A staff is a stick-like object, with or without grip and weighted ends, that’s spun around the body. The staff has been around for hundreds of years in various forms, was traditionally used by Polynesian and Asian cultures, and it’s still common to see staff being used in martial arts today.
There are generally two distinct spinning styles – spin and contact. A spin staff will be lighter and can come with a short grip, or no grip at all. This style is generally fast paced, and the fingers and thumb are used to grip and control the staff. A contact staff will be heavier and usually comes with a long grip covering most of the staff. This style relies less on using the hands to grip and more on using other parts of the body to maintain momentum and control.
Learning curve: the staff is generally easy to learn the basics of, with contact moves becoming a little more difficult.
Shop staff: here
Buugeng are a pair of s-shaped ‘blades’ (not sharp) that are manipulated together to create a magical illusion. There are commonly 2 shapes – radial and sinusoidal. The radial shaped buugeng have a more rounded curve, while the sinusoidal curve is slightly more elongated.
Buugeng were originally introduced as s-staff in the 1980’s by a juggler named Michael Moschen (the man behind David Bowie’s crystal ball in the film The Labyrinth). In 2001, a Japanese performer by the name of Dai Zaobab tweaked Mochen’s design to create what we now know as buugeng. Translated from Japanese, buu means martial arts, and geng means illusion.
Learning curve: buugeng are not known for being an easy prop to manipulate. It’s often recommended to try double staff first as this helps with understanding double prop concepts with a less tricky prop.
Similar to the staff, double staff are stick-like objects, with or without grip and weighted ends. Double staff can be full sized staffs or shorter ones, which are sometimes referred to as batons. As the name suggests, double staff are used in pairs and can be manipulated with spin or contact techniques. Double staff can also be used for juggling – it’s common to see more than 2 staffs being juggled.
Double staff are thought to have originated in dance and festivals in Europe and Asia, before progressing into the military where rifle twirling became common to see in parades.
Learning curve: double staff can take a bit of getting used to as opposed to a single staff due to using both hands at the same time, often doing different things, but are a great way to get used to double prop concepts.
Shop double staff: here
The levi wand is a stick with an ‘invisible’ string attached to it. This enchanted prop originated from the magic trick known as the Dancing Cane, where a magician would use sleight of hand to create a mystic illusion of a levitating stick.
The levi wand we know today stems from Flow Toys, who tweaked the idea of the Dancing Cane to create the Flow Wand. Levi wands can be used with a short string or with a long string for a wider range of moves.
Learning curve: the levi wand is relatively easy to learn the basics of, although some of the more complicated moves will require patience and persistence.
Shop levi wands: here
A dragon staff is essentially a contact staff with spokes on each end. The full length of the staff is covered with grip, and it’s manipulated using a combination of rolls and contact style techniques – making use of body parts more than hand grips – creating a visually stunning effect with the spokes.
Dragon staff stems from the traditional Chinese Fei Cha, an ancient art form that uses a trident-like staff with spokes on one end. Unlike Fei Cha, a dragon staff will have spokes at both ends of the staff, evenly distributing the weight.
Learning curve: the dragon staff is not as easy as staff to learn, although the extra weight slows it down which can help lessen the learning curve of a new prop.
Shop dragon staff: here
Also known as hula hoop, this prop is a large ring that can be twirled around the body. Hoops have been used as a children’s toy and a form of exercise for hundreds of years. Native Americans used hoop dance as a form of storytelling, and records of wooden and metal hoops becoming popular have been dated back to the 14th century. The modern hoop was made popular in 1958 by toy makers Wham-O after a friend brought a bamboo exercise hoop back from Australia.
Learning curve: hoop can be simple to learn how to spin around your neck, waist and arms, with more complex tricks requiring time and patience.
Shop hula hoops: here
Also known as devil sticks, flower sticks, or simply ‘sticking’, juggling sticks are a set of 3 sticks – 2 hand or control sticks, and one flower stick. The sticks are often covered in some type of grip to aid in control, and the flower stick can come with tassel flower ends, or tapered ends.
The first image of juggling sticks dates back to Prague in the 1820’s, although it’s believed they have a Chinese origin. Juggling sticks exploded in popularity in the 1970’s, and by the 90’s they had become a significant part of juggling culture.
Learning curve: it can take a little practice to get the basics of juggling sticks down, but once you master the ‘tick-tock’ move, many other tricks fall into place relatively easily.
Shop devil sticks: here
A fan shaped object with a handle that is often used in pairs. Fans have been used in dance for thousands of years, and it’s thought that their origins date back to the Han Dynasty in 200 A.D. Fans became popular in the western world around the 1930’s and today's fan spinners often use techniques inspired from belly dancing combined with fan tech – a trick focused style of spinning.
Learning curve: standard fan dancing can be fairly easy to learn, while technical fan spinning is a bit more difficult and will require practice and patience.
Shop fire fans: here
A rope dart is a long rope, often about 3 meters, with a head, known as the dart, on the end (as seen in Kill Bill: Vol 1). The dart head can be anything from a metal blade to a tennis ball. Other props stem from rope dart too, like meteor dart (a 2 headed rope dart) and puppy hammer (a rope with a dart head on either end of it).
Rope dart was originally a martial arts weapon, with the first dart dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). Nowadays, rope dart can be spun using martial arts inspired techniques – usually faster with a combat feel, or dance inspired techniques – usually slower-paced with more fluid movements.
Learning curve: most people find learning rope dart relatively easy. This could be due to the fact that when you accidentally smack yourself with your dart it hurts, so you learn pretty quickly how to avoid doing that.
Shop rope dart: here
Also known as isolation rings, this prop is a pair of rings shaped like an 8 that are manipulated to create impressive illusions. First created in 2009 by Renegade Juggling, 8 rings borrow techniques from hoops, and from other double props such as poi. Similar to iso sticks, 8 rings use isolations to make it seem like one ring is stuck while the others move around it. While they may resemble juggling rings, they’re not designed to be thrown and juggled.
Learning curve: 8 rings, like buugeng, are not known to be easy to learn. These will take practice, patience, and perseverance to master.
The art of juggling involves throwing and catching multiple objects simultaneously. From balls to clubs, and hats to knives, juggling is an art form widely recognised across the globe. Juggling is thought to have originated in ancient Egypt circa 2000 B.C., although there’s also evidence of juggling in the Aztec Empire, and in Chinese, Irish, Greek, and Roman history.
Learning curve: learning to juggle requires focus and patience but juggling 2-3 balls can be pretty easy to learn. The more objects you add, and the weirder their shape, the more difficult juggling becomes.
Shop juggling balls and clubs: here
Unlike traditional juggling, contact juggling involves keeping the ball/s in contact with your body as much as possible, using balance and rolling. Contact juggling is often performed using a clear acrylic ball, or multiple balls, but grippier silicone balls can be used too. Contact juggling is thought to have Asian origins, was brought to the western world in the 1800’s and became well known thanks to the 1986 movie The Labyrinth.
Learning curve: contact juggling can have a steep and frustrating learning curve, and it’s often recommended to start with a silicone ball over an acrylic ball, as the silicone will give you more grip.
Shop contact juggling: here
Iso sticks are a slightly less common prop and resemble miniature double staffs. They’re generally used to perform isolation tricks, where one end is ‘glued’ to the spot, and the rest of the staff rotates around that spot. Iso sticks are a great introduction to double props.
Learning curve: iso sticks are one of the easier double props to learn due to their small size, although wielding one in each hand takes time to get comfortable with.
Shop iso sticks: here
A diabolo is a double coned bobbin – an hour-glass shaped object – that is spun and thrown using a string attached to two sticks. The diabolo looks a little like a large yo-yo, and is often misspelled as diablo, which is Spanish for the devil. The diabolo was derived from the Chinese yo-yo and was introduced to the western world in the late 1700’s.
Learning curve: the simpler tricks on the diabolo can be pretty easy to learn, with multiple diabolos and more complex tricks requiring more patience.
Shop diabolo: here
So, there you have it – the tip of the flow iceberg. It’s important to note that everyone will learn and adapt to a new prop at different rates, and the learning curve information here is just a guide. We encourage anyone interested in picking up a prop to give it a go – you never know what you might be capable of if you never try!