Feb 3, 200603:37 PMThe Life
Flaggots in Heaven
Feb 3, 2006 - 03:37 PMI recently went to Heaven (a dance club in downtown Palm Springs) and spoke with several members of The Flaggots, a group that practices the beautifully sublime artforms of fanning and flagging. The quotes below are from Eric, a 40-year-old from Palm Springs, and Jazz (first two photos - click any thumbnail to enlarge). When asked about his age, Jazz replied simply, "I was on the dance floor the first time they played It's Raining Men."
What initially attracted you to these activities?
Jazz: I've been dancing in one form or another since I was very young. I first saw fan dancing in Key West around 1985. I had recently finished a five-year stint as a dancer in dinner theater musical comedies, and the movements attracted me both visually as an observer and intellectually as a performer.
What are the differences in technique between fanning and flagging?
Eric: The flags, which have flexible weights in their corners, seem to do their own thing. It's like you're just giving directional suggestions, and they tend to finish the circles for you. Fans, with their stiff ribs, go exactly where you point them and are much less forgiving. On the other hand, you have a lot more control with the fans. They move right where you want and they're much easier to stop.
Jazz: It's all about control: if flagging is like painting with a watercolor brush, fanning is drawing with pen-and-ink. Flags are very forgiving of any experimentation by the dancer; they will float until you catch up. Fans, on the other hand, will collapse and tangle if you don't give them the right instructions at the right time.
Can you describe the physical effects of flagging?
Jazz: On the one hand, flagging is a great aerobic workout when done with gusto. I'm sure I'd have an extra thirty or forty pounds around my waist if I didn't flag. On the other hand, after you become comfortable with the flags (or fans), your mind can shift from concentrating on technique to enjoying the beauty of the flags as they fill your field of vision. Once that change in focus starts happening on a regular basis, you can then slip into a "theta" state, a mental condition in which ideation can occur without censorship or guilt. This experience is typically very positive and free-flowing.
Eric: When you're in the middle of a song and you're really pumping away, it can give you what some call the "runner's high." At times, I've become oblivious to the world around me and just got lost in the spinning of the flags.
Is there a family feeling in your group?
Jazz: The members of our "tribe" are very supportive of each other. Upon meeting, a hug is as natural as a handshake. At the club, we keep an eye on each other's equipment. Outside the club, we get together often. The terms we use for mentors are Flag Daddy or Mommy, which makes the student a Son or Daughter. In turn, that "child" will have the chance to be a "parent" as well. Following that logic, I'm a Great-Great-Grandfather.
Eric: When I first started, the only flagger I knew was my mentor. But it's always a great joy to meet others who flag. I feel an instant bond with them, because flagging is a skill that takes time and devotion. Teaching and learning promotes the bond. We share our "toys," techniques and ideas.
What are the differences in style between your group and others?
Eric: We tend to "get big" - our flags are spread out, both on the sides and above us. I've noticed that some east-coast performers tend to flag "tightly" and I think it's because they don't have as much space in their home venues.
Jazz: Flagging is a very individualized art form, and groups that have practiced together long and hard are still going to be individuals, even while performing the exact same move. (Nowhere else can so many prima donnas get together, do their own thing, and still look good doing it.) Just like other forms of dance, it can be lyrical or percussive, abstract or emotive, free-form or choreographed.
Do fanners and flaggers perform mostly in dance clubs?
Eric: Yes, but they can be seen in other places, too. One of Mariah Carey's videos has flaggers, as does the live Aladdin show at Disney's California Adventure. In the widescreen version of "Moulin Rouge," you can see flaggers on the sides, near the end of the stage performance. Flaggers also appeared during last Thanksgiving's halftime show for the Dallas Cowboys.
Is it difficult for someone to learn flagging?
Jazz: Tradition holds that mentors take on students and teach them the basics, including how to make their own sets of flags. After that, it's just a matter of practice and experimentation. The Flaggots are almost always at Heaven in downtown Palm Springs after 11pm on most Friday nights, and we're usually happy to show beginners the ropes. One caveat: we are there on our own time, and if it's been a bad day, we might not be in the proper mood to teach. But it never hurts to ask!
How long has this artform been practiced in its current format?
Jazz: It has evolved dramatically over time, probably starting with a drag queen accidentally dropping an oriental fan and recovering it in midair with a flourish.
Listen to Jazz discuss fanning/flagging antecedents and connections to other activities.
Are there websites where one can learn more?
Eric: SpinTribe.com is a good start. In addition to having its own basic resources, it contains links to many other places that have loads of information.