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The art of flagging dance, often called flag spinning, flag dancing, or rag spinning, but more commonly referred to as flagging, is the undulation, spinning and waving of flags in a rhythmic fashion to music. Practitioners of this form of performance art and dance are usually referred to as "flaggers" and "flag dancers", though until the 1990s this mostly referred to those waving flags to aid transportation professions (flag semaphore).
The flaggers and fan dancers almost disappeared as AIDS took its toll on the community, but by 1988 a few masters of these arts ensured they passed their tradition onto new members of the community. Adam Wojtowicz (flags) and Jeffrey Reichlin (fans) were two such performance artists in the New York area first seen at The Saint at Large. Three performed for Heritage of Pride in 1990, four in 1991. In 1996 thirty fan dancers and flaggers from the Northeast where ready to take rotations on stage at the annual Pride Dance on the Pier. San Francisco, where this art form began, was still recovering from its loses. Those who had not died, placed their toys away out of significant grief. AmFAR held a benefit in September 1997 at the Trocadero returning the dance to its birthplace.
The origins of flagging started with simple tee-shirts on the dance floor or fabric with a quarter tied in one corner. Today they are made by adding curtain weights sewn onto portions of two sides of fabric make it possible for flaggers to spin their props, or toys, through the air in ways similar to fan dancing. Given their simpler design (and portability), flagging is easier for beginners to start with and one can purchase pre-made flags from a few artisans such as Don Baker. The first such opportunity was advertised in Circuit Noize magazine in 1997– simple gold lame flags of 3 feet by 5 feet that came with a matching bag. Flags can be of almost any fabric, but silk, organza and lamé are preponderant, with silk being the most favored. Silk flags are usually dyed in vibrant, ultraviolet fluorescent colors, creating an almost hypnotic spectacle when spun rhythmically to music.
Flagging tribes in the USA
Flagger groups, known as tribes, formed in New York City, Boston, Columbus, Philadelphia, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco and South Florida in the mid 1990s, and were often part of the backdrop of the circuit party events mostly attended by gay men. These were soon followed by the formation of troupes in Minneapolis, Seattle, and Houston in the United States, and in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Of these, two chose to commercialize this disco art form and operated as choreographed performance troupes: Axis Danz in New York the FlyBoys of Flag in Texas. Many tribes continue to perform as atmosphere in clubs and at benefits worldwide.
Flagging In Brazil
The origins of this art in Brazil date back to Belo Horizonte, a city of the state of Minas Gerais, 1998 - 1999. Due to the abundance of gay festivities in the country, the culture initially spread to Rio de Janeiro and later to São Paulo, Brasília and Florianópolis. Many users of social networks (Facebook, Orkut, among others) posted their photos with banners (flags) to promote and / or demonstrate the art. There are some meetings in the park that are held to provide opportunities to practice, similar to those in the USA. Some of them even sponsored by the city (laws to encourage Culture, in Belo Horizonte). These are usually organized by art masters (flag masters) in some cities such as Belo Horizonte or São Paulo. Another city, Florianopolis, has seen an increase of flagging activities at festivals and parties since 2010. These events promote the exchange of experiences among the participants, ensuring the continued maintenance of Art and Culture with Flags on the national scene. On July 9, 2011, the fourth Minas Gerais flaggers meeting took place in Belo Horizonte, where several members of the country participated. It is the second largest meeting of Flaggers in the world, second only to the community of the city of San Francisco, California. Currently, this art can be seen in electronic culture scenes such as Raves in various parts of the country. The flags are not necessarily manufactured by flag-makers originating in Brazil by the original flaggers, but flags still continue to enter the scene through outside sources.
Performances and conferences have begun forming in various cities, including New York, San Francisco and Dallas. Conferences and workshops happen in 2 or 3 full day events, and teach construction and techniques from beginner to advanced. A short list of leaders in the community often travel to many of these events, becoming known internationally as masters in Flag Dancing.
The Texas Flagger Weekend ran from 2003 - 2009. The event consisted of growing number of flaggers from around the world, peaking in 2008 with 80+ participants. The event had various tracks, from beginners to advanced. In later years, the Weekend expanded to include multiple tracks, a circuit party and a showcase of performances, SpinOut, of their own, inspired by the San Francisco events of the same name. The Texas Flagger Weekend was founded by Patric Nast and Phillip Bryan in Dallas in 2003.
New York hosted the "World Symposium of Fanning and Flagging" in 2005 and included movement classes, creation workshops, and performances, mostly held at The Center.
Flagging In The Park (FITP), started in 1997, is a fundraising gathering of flaggers, flow artists, and their supporters, happening in the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park. The event was started as a celebration of life and an honoring of those who had passed by founder Jeff Kennedy; then held by a few core members of the close-knit SF Tribe; in 2002 - 2003 the event was produced in Dolores Park by Bryan Hughes; in 2005 the event moved back to the National AIDS Memorial Grove being led by Xavier Caylor; from 2014 to the present the event is being held by a group of flaggers from the Bay Area and beyond. The basic event includes: a live DJ spinning music, a time for reflection, and hat being passed to raise money money for charity. Flaggers, Fan Dancers, Poi, and Hoop dancers are all invited to the event. One of the five events happens the last full weekend of July, on Saturday before the Up Your Alley Street Fair on Sunday, and is advertised as the (Flagger) SF Destination Weekend. The weekend offers a tie-dye opportunity (flag creation), FITP, and several opportunities to gather with and without flags; the other 4 dates vary - check www.flagginginthepark.org for more information.
- Genre Magazine, June 2004
- New York Blade, February 6, 2004
- Edge Magazine, review of Flow Affair documentary by Jim Hauk, August 3, 2011.
- Xavier Caylor, Producer of Flagging In The Park 1999 to present, August 2018
- Weems, Mickey (2008). The Fierce Tribe: Masculine Identity and Performance in the Circuit. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-87421-691-2.
- "The Evolution of Flag Dancing - Flow Affair, Flagging and Fanning dance". flowaffair.org. Retrieved 2018-06-08.
- "Heritage of Pride Records | The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center". The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. 2018-02-14. Retrieved 2018-06-08.
- Flow Affair; Flagging, Fanning, Poi and Floguing Dance documentary