It’s 6 o’clock on a rainy Monday night at the Walker Memorial’s Morss Hall at MIT, and people are beginning to trickle in slowly through the open doors.
Inside, the floor is being emptied in preparation for the night’s activities—tables are being folded and chairs stacked into neat columns beside the pillars. To each side, people cluster in small groups to chat while waiting for the floor to clear.
Scattered on the floor and tables are an assortment of flow props, including contact staffs, poi, hoops, and juggling clubs. Flow arts describes a variety of movement-based disciplines including but not limited to juggling, fire spinning, and object manipulation.
After about 10 minutes, the task of moving the furniture is complete, and co-organizer Lux Luminous signals the beginning of the night by turning on the music. An ethereal voice spills out of a hidden speaker, echoing across the empty dance floor, and the space begins to fill.
With teal hair, matching glasses frames, and an LED levi-wand, Luminous is hard to miss. She works in marketing and social media, but also performs and teaches flow arts, as well as helping out with MIT’s flow spinning arts and juggling clubs. According to Luminous, there can be up to 50 Boston Spinjam participants per week during the school semesters, which is comprised of newcomers, experienced flow artists, and even professionals.
“We get a lot of newcomers that show up, and we do have extra props for [them],” she said. “And then we also have a lot of like professional performers that come here—for example, the Boston Circus Guild, [who are] professional performers in the area. You’ll see circus companies and whatnot come here and have their meetings [because] this is a huge space.”
By definition, Boston Spinjam is a “weekly flow arts and object manipulation group,” as well as “a community of learners and teachers.” Inside the gigantic space, the latter certainly rings true. While many of the attendees are regulars, this is Mark Jones and Orlando Tirado’s first jam. Upon inquiry, they are directed to Libby Brownell, a longtime member of the spinjam and contact staff artist. Luckily for the two novices, Brownell has brought extra props and is willing to teach.
Brownell takes the two men through the basics, demonstrating a move called “wrist wraps” as they speak. Apart from informal sessions during weekly spinjams, Brownell has also taught flow arts both locally at libraries and held workshops at Wildfire Retreat, an annual spinning and fire arts training camp on the East Coast. According to them, it’s common for impromptu lessons like this to occur during weekly spinjams. In fact, they had a similar entry point into flow arts, some 10 years ago after being introduced to the group.
“I just showed up [at Boston Spinjam],” said Brownell, with a laugh, “and somebody taught me some stuff.”
Tara Nasaurus, another co-organizer of the weekly meet-up, describes it as a skill-share environment.
“It’s very casual,” she said, “It’s about creating a space for people to come share and acquire skills if they want, but also just setting aside weekly time to practice in a meditative space. Sometimes it looks like socializing, sometimes it looks like juggling with friends, and sometimes it looks like teaching others—so it’s a very diverse space. We have all sorts of props and people who come.”
For a community this large and well-connected, larger events and festivals are common. Many members of Boston Spinjam jump at the opportunity to teach and perform outside their weekly practice opportunities. One such opportunity is Figment Boston, an annual performance and visual art event located on the Rose Kennedy Greenway at Dewey Square.
In the shade of the grass lawn at Dewey Square, an assortment of colorful props lie scattered on the ground. Hula hoops in a rainbow of colors, sets of juggling clubs, and contact staffs spill out of unattended bags. Acrylic contact juggling balls nestle among the greenery like Easter eggs. If left lying in the sun, the clear, jewel-like balls would concentrate the heat, burning anything underneath.
The square is bustling with activity. Groups of flow artists, jugglers and passersby circle up, picking up, discarding, and trying out different props at random. Near the main road, an impromptu multiball contact juggling class is in session.
As an elementary school teacher by day, teaching comes easily to Natan Wythe. A crowd of children have gathered at the edge of the pavement to watch Wythe slowly pass his hands over, under, and around eight acrylic balls that appear to be floating in midair. It’s a task requiring immense concentration and coordination. Abruptly, he stops and lets the balls cascade into the grass below, before inviting the gathered group to give it a try.
Elsewhere on the lawn, similar workshops are being held in a variety of flow arts and object manipulation disciplines. Luminous, twirling her ever-present levi-wand, is demonstrating beginner moves to two other girls. Jugglers pair off to practice passing clubs to each other. In the background, a group of flow artists try out new tricks with rope darts, a prop based on the Chinese martial arts weapon of the same name.
According to Luminous, Boston is a veritable hub of flow arts.
“We have one of the largest communities in the country,” she said. “I would say we rival San Francisco.”
There’s a reason for the vibrant flow arts scene in Boston. According to longtime Boston Spinjam member Ewok, Boston has good access to suitable practice spaces, many of them connected to open spaces on university campuses.
“MIT has its open campus, for us to be able to spin there as part of the community, which makes things easier,” he said. “Tufts has [also] been gracious enough to allow us to spin fire right on their campus.”
In most cases in Boston, spinning fire is illegal, which poses a problem for many flow artists. Medford Spinjam at Tufts manages to sidestep this problem by having all students sign waivers and not having the event be open to the public.
In addition to physical spaces, there is now a booming online community of flow artists, and many believe that it is now easier than ever to become involved with flow arts.
“There’s very healthy online community, especially with Facebook groups and YouTube videos. I think it’s very accessible—and the cost of entry is pretty low,” Nasaurus said.
“Back then, there was no one to teach me anything, so I found someone related to this, and we did skill-shares,” Ewok said. “Eventually, we developed a network of people, and now, there’s resources to learn from. There’s all sorts of instructional retreats and festivals now which didn’t exist [in the past].”
You can find more info on Facebook and at spinning-arts.mit.edu.