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A flower pattern from flow artist Nick Woolsey captured through long exposure photography; photograph is an example of light painting

Glowsticking is a form of object manipulation or dancing with glowsticks or other glowstick-like objects that share the same qualities: durability, consistency in light, safe to toss around, and the material of which they are made, often a soft and pliant plastic.

Glowsticking is an "umbrella term" describing two broad categories, with the most agreed upon separation being whether it is stringed or not stringed. More importantly, glowsticking has roots in the electronica and rave scenes, and has a cultural paradigm more in common with those scenes than those of other scenes. Some aspects include the culture of non-competitiveness, preferring sharing and performing in accordance with your observer, without any kind of negative statement implied. Because of this glowsticking competitions are frowned upon by most practitioners of glowsticking. Although glowsticking as a field can largely be practiced anywhere, the roots it has with raving has led to the adoption of most of the ideals of the rave scene. In recent days complete glow stick costumes have been created that attach to one's body, the two most popular being from Crayola and Glowstickables.[1]


Both of these terms, freehand and glowstringing, describe the technical skills that relates to both. It is only when the practitioner intends to dance that it becomes glowsticking. Otherwise, they may be a juggler who is simply choosing to juggle glowsticks (in the case of freehand), or a poist who is doing poi with glowsticks. That is not to say that a juggler or a poist cannot dance if they so choose with glowsticks—just that glowsticking implies dancing.[2]


Glowstringing is defined by a few factors: the use of glowsticks on a string, the swinging motion, and an equally large growing category of moves and concepts that share many of the same aspects as many other stringing related fields, such as poi, yo-yoing, and martial arts forms common with swords, flails, and rope darts, is typically done with glowstick or glowstick-like instruments tied with a durable string at the end of it. In some case, handles may be used, because of moves which favor the fact that the glowstick handle can be grabbed and switched with the swinging part. In some cases, because of the existence of handles which glow both ways, moves which "throw" can be accomplished as it can be grabbed on either side.[3]


Freehand glowsticking is glowsticking typically practiced without strings attached to the glowsticks. Freehand is defined by the steadily growing body of concepts and moves. Some of these concepts include tracing, taps, tossing, stalls and threading, as well as interdisciplinary dance skills borrowed from common funk style categories. Freehand glowsticking typically borrows from many other dance styles such as liquid dancing as well as having its own unique set of moves.[4]

Tracing is the act of dragging the glowsticks over the contours of one's body. An example of a common trace is the stomach trace, which includes dragging the glow sticks over one's stomach to create a circular pattern. Another example of a basic movement frequently used in freehand glowsticking is the figure eight—quite possibly the most well known, albeit not the most common move in the intermediate and more advanced levels.


In the context of this article, a lightshow is a performance given with glowsticks to a small audience of one or several people which are physically close to the performer. Lightshow is a term that can be used loosely to refer to performances given with LED lights (light-emitting diodes), assorted light toys, lasers, and a variety of other "light up" items.[5]

History and culture[edit]

Although glowsticking has roots in the mid-1980s gay scene in the US at Saint nightclub in New York and in the UK at Heaven nightclub before becoming popular in the early 1990s on the underground rave scene, they were used in Grateful Dead shows before the rave scene arrived, it has since become a separate cultural phenomenon that can be found throughout the general electronic dance music world, and is becoming popular in the twirling and dexterity play communities.[6]

There has been some who have claimed glowstringing is poi with glowsticks. This confusion is understandable, as the field of glowstringing is smaller and newer than the field of poi. Poi as a cultural art form is a hundreds of years old discipline coming from New Zealand.

Glowstringing originally came from Poists who practiced the art at raves, where glowsticks were probably advantageous compared to non-glowing objects. Many glowstringers can probably trace their roots to poi and many will often practice more poi at times than "pure" glowstringing.

Glowsticks were preferred by many in the rave scene in a way much similar to freehand's development, and were preferred in the rave scene to emit light for a numerous reasons, including its relative cheapness, their harmlessness and durability and their disposable nature, but has largely cemented glowsticks as an icon of the rave scene, sometimes negatively, which is why there was and is still such a large prevalence of glowstick use by freehanders and glowstringers alike.

The nature of the glowstick, allowing for concepts which would otherwise be impossible with other objects, has thus significantly influenced the development of both freehand and glowstringing. In freehand, the obvious shape of the glowstick is used in numerous ways to accent, or to catch, or to even create patterns of light or to accentuate body movement. In terms of glowstringing, glowsticks have significantly impacted former pure poists in order to take advantage of the glowstick. For example, linked catches and glowstick manipulations borrow far more from a yo-yo string manipulation concept than poi.

Over time, glowstringing, because of the cultural differences that resulted from many different reasons, has become its own category. In all, glowstringing belongs in the same category of swinging objects and object manipulation such as Poi, martial arts, yo-yoing, staffing, etc.[7]


The origin of "ravers" using glowsticks started when they used them to "blow each other up" by twirling glowsticks and L.E.D. lights in front of one another's face.[citation needed] This is thought to enhance the effects of the drug MDMA, or ecstasy, which is a popular drug among ravers and the rave scene. Some rave promoters have banned glowsticks from events, especially those taking place in confined spaces, due to the space required to glow stick and the potential danger of striking other rave goers.[citation needed] In 2001, the DEA tried but failed to ban glowsticks and other items from dance parties, mislabeling them "drug paraphernalia." [8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ What is Glowsticking?, Articles, 2002
  2. ^ Forms of Glowsticking., Articles, 2002
  3. ^ What is Glowstringing?, Articles, 2002
  4. ^ What is Freehand?, Articles, 2002
  5. ^ The Lightshow., Articles, 02-13-2008
  6. ^ Torgovnick K (2009). Cheer!: Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders. New York, NY: Touchstone. p. 117. ISBN 1-4165-3597-7. 
  7. ^ An Explanation Of The History Of Freehand And Glowstringing., Articles, 2002
  8. ^ Government's War on Raves Went Too Far, Louisiana Court Rules (8/24/2001)