Michael LaHood first came across fire dancing in 2001 while living in San Francisco. "A friend and I sought out training opportunities and found a deeply welcoming and open community that was excited to share its knowledge," he said in an interview with Windy City Times. "I became involved in the community not only as a performer, but as a documentarian. I actually did video for the very first Flow Show in San Francisco before we had any idea that it was going to catch on as the Flow Arts began to spread across the country."
"Flow arts" is an umbrella term for a fusion form of dance, performance art and circus arts involving various props such as hoops, fire staffs, levitating wands, juggling and poia pair of weighted tethers swung to create geometric patterns. The name "flow arts" comes from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who speaks of "flow" as an alternative state of being experienced when engaged with a task requiring a high degree of skill and a high degree of challenge.
Broadly stated, Csikszentmihalyi's flow is about finding a groove, or being "in the zone," and can occur during a variety of activities such as sports, work or acts of creative expression. It's a feeling of bliss or "ecstasy," as Csikszentmihalyi described in a TED Talk, "that comes from doing things that make [our] lives meaningful and worth doing, with no promise of fame or fortune. … Ecstasy is participating in something that is different, or greater than our everyday livesentering a different reality." If the balance of a particular activity shifts to a lower degree of challenge or skill, flow can dissolve and an individual is more likely to experience boredom or apathy; a too-high degree of challenge creates anxiety. Flow arts aim to find that perfect balance through engaging with highly technical, highly creative tasks that require deliberate practice.
While many flow artists use impressive and inherently dangerous variations of flow props as a form of exhibition, the Flow Show that LaHood first encountered in San Francisco approaches the form in a different way. "The Flow Show is unique in that the props are stripped down to their basic forms," he said. "Often, flow artists use fire or glow props that are dazzling in their own right. ... While that has its place, we see the Flow Show as a challenge to the communitystrip those props bare, and focus on choreography and expression in a professional dance setting."
This approach affords opportunities for flow artists to bring their work indoors and onto the stages of professional venues. LaHood's involvement with flow arts has continued to grow; now living in Chicago, he is the producer of a Chicago branch of the Flow Show showing Nov. 13-14 at Links Hall. "We see it as a way for the community to celebrate, but also as a way for the community to get down to work," said LaHood about the Flow Show's refined and deliberate approach to flow arts. "It's a conference, a showcase, a spot for people to really bring out their best and influence the trends and directions of the Flow Arts community as a whole.
Emily Perkins, an accomplished Chicago-based hoop dancer, joins LaHood in producing the upcoming Midwest Flow Show. The two have recruited flow artists from across the region, many of whom will meet for the first time during their dress rehearsal on Nov. 11. "It turns this whole weekend into a pretty amazing culmination," said LaHood. "By the time we all get together the cast is dying to see each others' work, and the energy and freshness are palpable. It's actually one of the really dynamic and community building parts of the show."
With emcee/local comedienne Tamale Sepp stitching together each act, the Flow Show aims to celebrate artistic expression, community and inclusivity. This particular cast includes a broad spectrum of individuals with many connections to the LGBTQ community.
"There seems to be a pretty significant LGBTQ presence in the Flow Arts community as a whole," said LaHood. "This event is a celebration of that deeply inclusive community. It's a challenge to the community to grow in interesting ways, and it's an invitation for people to come be a part of our world, whether as an audience member for an evening, or as someone who becomes a long term participant. The people involved are absolutely breathtaking for their technical skill and grace. This is the spot where we gather to celebrate a labor of love that we've all embarked upon, and I can't imagine a more magical place to be."
The Flow Show Chicago will take place Friday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 14, at 3 and 7 p.m. at Links Hall, 3111 N. Western Ave. Tickets are $20 ( general admission ) and $10 ( kids 12 and under ); visit www.LinksHall.org .