As the sun sets over San Luis Obispo on a Wednesday night, a group of students are twirling objects with glowing LED lights, alternating in color.
The members of SLO GLO are practicing flow art. Originating from the Pacific Islands, flow art uses different instruments, including your own body, to create a meditative flow of moving parts.
“It’s sort of like dance in a way,” computer science senior Corbin Gruber said. “Right as you pick up the fundamentals, everyone starts to pick up their own style.”
Grubert has been a member of SLO GLO for just over four years and joined with an interest in shuffling and gloving which he had done in high school. Shuffling is a dance form commonly performed in the flow art scene. In gloving, performers use gloves with LED lights on the fingertips to create flowing patterns with their hands.
Flow art can take many forms, from hula hooping, shuffling and gloving to twirling fire sticks and glow sticks. At Cal Poly, many flow art enthusiasts use poi balls to flow.
According to Flow Arts Institute, poi was traditionally used in the rituals of the Māori people of New Zealand. The poi you may see today on campus, at music festivals or late night at Pirate’s Cove is a lot less structured than it used to be.
“Poi to me means self expression; it means getting out of your comfort zone,” mechanical engineering senior and SLO GLO member Nick Tong said. “It means trusting yourself to take risks and try new things.”
Materials engineering senior Corey Sutton was interested in the art after seeing people in his residence hall practicing during his freshman year.
“It’s really good vibes, I’d say,” Sutton said. “It’s not exactly the rave culture that people think of, it’s just really chill people who like to hang out and teach each other.”
Originally, poi balls and cords were woven from natural materials native to New Zealand.
With modern technology, poi balls and cords can be made with a variety of different materials, such as metal, rope and plastic. Poi balls can be lit on fire, light up electronically or not light up at all.
Sutton explained that today’s version of poi is very different from its traditional roots. Glow sticks are often used in place of poi balls and other props like staffs, gloves and hula hoops can be added to the mix.
“It’s almost a different branch of poi, whereas poi is this very large-scale movements using your whole body,” Sutton said. “Any LED prop is more so done in a small space, where it’s tighter moves and meant to be performed to a smaller audience.”
Typically associated with electronic music and raves, poi and other flow arts have been gaining popularity since the ‘90s. The performance art has fostered a community for people with a shared interest for the music and art.
“It’s just been the biggest outlet for me to have somewhere to go and people to interact with,” Sutton said. “Anybody, even if they know nothing coming in, can really gain something from it like I did.”
The club is open to new members and is willing to teach newcomers the ropes.
“I got to learn from someone who was very good at what he did and very influential,” Sutton said. “The only thing you need to get better at something is inspiration and I was lucky enough to be around a lot of inspirational people and now I try to be that person for other people.”