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History of Flagging

Flagging Stories: A History

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The first story I remember hearing on the dance floor involving spinning was the story of Rumi. He was a 13th century scholar who taught by sharing the stories he gained in his many travels. He had many followers, and one changed his life forever. Rumi took Shams, a beautiful young dervish, for his lover. Their affair was cut short when, one night, Shams disappeared, never to be seen again.

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A Few Answers

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Moving to San Francisco can really immerse a person into a flagging
community. Tidbits of history, theories on spirituality, opinions of
individuals, and promoters that provide space to proliferate have
inspired me to revel in this art. There seem to be a few core
questions I am asked repeatedly:

  • Where did this come from? (What is the connection between fans and flags?)
  • Is there a proper way to teach?
  • Is there something wrong with getting paid to flag?
  • Why don’t stores sell flags?
  • What is the Tribe?

I offer the answers for these questions as I see them. Admittedly, I
wear glasses.


Where did this come from?

(What is the connection between fans and flags?)

I remember hearing a story, a nice story actually, about a group of fan
dancers who whittled away at their spines leaving just a lead stick and
eventually replacing that with weights to guide the fabric along. Without
questioning, I accepted this as the way it was and chalked one up to yet
another fabulous thing my community created. Keep telling this story, it’s
one of my favorites.

Then I started looking at what is. Rhythmic dancing, not a far stretch from
the way some flaggers spin, is an Olympic sport. Archived in old books, I’ve
seen flags and fans used for martial arts. Many cultures have incorporated
scarves and fans into dance. Boys and girls, we are embellishing on forms of
expression that have existed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Fan and flag dancing are art forms that share so much, yet are also uniquely
different. Energetically they are both celebrations of life! In the present
moment, moving to music, allowing yourself to be free, players of both arts
have the opportunity to enter their “be”-ingness in a form of
meditation.

– Most fans are rigid, made of wood, less forgiving. Movements can stop and
start, flip and furl.

– Flags are yielding. They generally contain metal pieces. Movements all
tend to flow.

It’s no wonder that those who picked up one learned both, working with
one medium can improve skills in the other. Thinking all great things
have come from our community in recent past is narcissistic. Being in
the moment, honoring how your body wants to move, and flowing with the
energy of life is a gift that has been rediscovered in our community.


Is there a proper way to teach?

This is a loaded question: to answer it one must first look at where we’ve
been.

The gay community’s celebration in the 70’s had a different flavor
than it does now. We were exploring ourselves as a community,
exploring our pride, really breaking free from the chains of
prejudice. Pre-circuit party fan and/or flag communities gathered at
local clubs. Artisans would go and show their wares, marveling
onlookers enchanted, sharing the art would happen over time with
reinforcement and guidance. The apprentice would learn, or be
empowered, to make his or her-own art by the sage artisan. Technique
could be either modeled or shared by observation. Etiquette was
discussed amongst friends.

The AIDS epidemic took the wind out of our sails and the spirit out of our
community. Mobilization ensuing after the epidemic gave us many gifts.
Illuminating our brothers and sisters around the country, a sense of pride
stemmed from giving ourselves as never before. Large benefits were held and
attended, the circuit rooted.

Now-a-days, frequent flyer miles coax people around the country to travel to
random cities. We are still exploring ourselves as a community, but we’ve
been to hell and back and we are reveling as never before. Creating as only
affluent societies have, this art is reaching a whole new audience, one that
transcends the chains of prejudice. The foundation for continued support and
growth has fallen on the shoulders of the individual. The new flagger picks
up the art over a weekend then returns home and experiences the frustration
of growing without the wisdom of their teacher. As experienced as I am with
imparting wisdom into an eager ear, two nights in a club are not enough. The
frustration of growing alone is common among today’s new flaggers.
Another thing available today, a flashy ad in a circuit city supply catalogue
catches the eye of a would-be flagger. Inspiring someone to try their hand
at spinning, this person has no energetic connection to the flagging
community. Many members of the flagging community are opposed to the sale of
flags for this reason.

Flagging, to me, is a very individual experience. When I gaze upon an
artisan I can see far more than the medium they are working with. Spinning a
set of flags, moving their body in response to the melody they hear. Of the
many ways out there to meditate (spend time with yourself) this is one that
brings you into your body, into the moment.

I have spoken to many flaggers and all of them have a similar
experience that shows up between 2 to 4 months after they’ve really
been hooked (flagging daily, teaching everyone they know, sharing with
family, attempting to make there own flags, etc.) The energy in their
life starts to flow differently.

Some of the babies I’ve had the opportunity to shape have had this happen
very quickly. So, yes, I encourage people to find a flag daddy (mommy) that
can spend time with them. I also have learned to trust. A friend caught me
by surprise the other day when he said his first set of fabrics came from
“Don’t Panic.” He kept his ears open and entered the community when he felt
comfortable, learning as he was ready, and, most importantly, is oozing
the energetic change in all areas of his life.

Were you guided into the art by an experienced artisan? Were you immersed
over a short time then left to learn on your own? Or did you acquire a set
of flags and teach yourself?

Now I ask you: Which is the way you would’ve wanted to learn?
Think of this as your next opportunity to teach.


Is there something wrong with getting paid to flag?

There I was, hooked, flagging in the corner of a club, approached by the
owner who asked if I would be interested in spinning on the box in the center
of the dance floor. Hmmm. I, like many, jumped at the chance.
When I moved to San Francisco I met someone with an opinion about the
exchange of cash for flagging. Philip once told me, “Flagging for me is
something that transcends the material plane. I don’t want money to enter
into something I hold so sacred, something that has changed my life.” His
conviction soared straight to my heart and has greatly influenced Centrifugal
Force.

Picking up a set of flags I don’t tend to pre-plan how I will move. The
meditation is achieved when you stop thinking and start “be”-ing. You get a
group together, start choreographing, and it goes from a point of
self-expression (how most people are experiencing it) to group expression.
Now enter the would-be participant. Are you flagging for yourself? Are you
flagging for the attention? Are you flagging for the money? Are you serving
the highest vision of yourself with your actions?

I will not tell you what you should or should not do; ultimately the
choice is yours. I will ask you to honor others and their decisions.


Why don’t stores sell flags?

Buying flags from a circuit supply warehouse does not expose a new
flagger to the people, culture or etiquette of flagging and is
generally frowned upon. “But,” you say, “where do I get a set to get
started?” This is not an easy question to answer. It is part of what
is driving Centrifugal Force to provide information on the web and
through workshops. We even have a flag loaner program at our flagging
events in Golden Gate Park.

I encourage everyone I mentor to make a set of flags. For me it was a rite of
passage into my community. This, however, is my opinion.


What is The Tribe?

Think back to when this art was a local phenomenon, the local boys and girls
would gather to play. Circuit parties spread us around the country. Groups
of people would gather and play. One of these groups took up flagging. They
shared a thirst for spirituality and a desire to experience living. Whether
they found flagging or flagging found them, they became a very tight knit
group of brothers that shared their fears, desires, and love openly.
Traveling around the country, the art of flagging was just one of the many
gifts they spread openly and wholeheartedly. To interact within the Tribe is
to let go and allow oneself to “be.”

From this web site to Flagging in the Park, in various cities around the US;
Dino’s tie-dyed flags; the Men’s Inner Journey; weekly meditations in San
Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami; Tribal Force; Centrifugal Force; inspiring
thousands of men to pick up the art of flagging — their energy continues to
inspire many beautiful things to take root in our community.