Get ‘in the flow’ with fire-spinners, acro-yogis, jugglers and more at the Taco Tuesday Flow Jam

Weekly Palmer Square gathering features flow artists sharing their skills, perfecting their practice and finding zen through fun.

SHARE Get ‘in the flow’ with fire-spinners, acro-yogis, jugglers and more at the Taco Tuesday Flow Jam
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Jugglers Austen Cloud, Josh Schilling and their friend Tor look for the perfect rhythm to juggle pins as Schilling stands atop Tor’s shoulders.

Ale Russian

Venture out to Palmer Square on most any Tuesday night, and you’ll likely be distracted by a variety of objects — not to mention people — flying through the air. No, the circus isn’t in town: It’s the Taco Tuesday Flow Jam, a weekly gathering of jugglers, acrobats, fire-spinners and other eye-catching athletes, also known as flow artists.

The de facto organizer of this weekly potluck, 29-year-old Austen Cloud, says the whole thing started pretty effortlessly when a friend encouraged people to start meeting up in the park. That was seven years ago.

“I’d been wanting to throw a flow jam, but I figured I’d have to go find or rent a space and build it up. But when she said we can just go to the park and eat tacos, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s so easy,’” Cloud says. “We’re all kind of weird because we do something that most people don’t do, so when you’re around tons of other people who do the same thing, it’s really exciting.”

For the unfamiliar, “flow arts” is a catch-all term for any mind-body activity, such as juggling, fire-spinning or even yoga, that helps to focus the mind while simultaneously honing one’s physical abilities. Nowadays, the idea of finding an activity so immersive and engaging that the outside world fades away sounds too good to be true. But to enter the “flow state” — when one has no choice but to be present — is the ultimate goal of the flow arts.

“You find out really quickly if you’re not present because you get hit in the face,” says Brian Bearden, 47, who made a special stop at the flow jam with his 9-year-old daughter, Anara. “It immediately reminds you, ‘Hey, you’re not present. Take a breath. Remember you’re right here, right now — and stay here.’”

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Acro-yoga has become a hit at Taco Tuesday Flow Jam, with acrobats pulling in people to try new poses as others hop on top of shoulders to practice juggling.

Ale Russian

What keeps participants coming back is the sense of joy they get from playing together in the informal environment of a friendly picnic. Artists might hop on each other’s shoulders while working through ways to juggle. It’s not uncommon for a newcomer (or even a regular) to ask a fellow artist how to do a trick. And regulars are constantly trying to pull in passersby with colorful props and gravity-defying moves.

“Community and connecting with other people is the biggest reason I come out here,” says Josh Schilling, 41, a juggler and flow artist. “It’s interesting to see when you have a prop and somebody else has that same prop — or you teach someone that prop. There’s an instant connection that’s made that is oftentimes greater than a connection you’ve had with a friend you’ve known for years. Within a day you’re like, ‘All right, we understand each other!’”

Schilling shares this passion with his longtime partner Vickie Pang, 36, who picked up juggling again after he encouraged her to revisit a skill she had first developed in her childhood. The couple now juggles together all the time, and they’ve become regulars at the weekly flow jam. Pang says the relaxed and friendly nature of the group encourages this exploration of skill and play.

“It’s really neat, since you get to see other forms of art, and people are really friendly with sharing their props. You never know what’s going to be here,” she says. “Like, there are giant bubbles today, and sometimes we bring our water guns or water balloons. You never know what’s gonna happen.”

Others, like Bearden, bring their kids along. Though Bearden and his daughter now live in California, they make it a priority to attend the Palmer Square flow jam when they’re in town. For him, it’s unique to find a group that has fostered a sense of community without any feelings of competition. It’s why he loves bringing Anara around whenever he can, and the two often learn tricks together with help from other artists.

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At the Taco Tuesday Flow Jam, a weekly gathering of jugglers, acrobats, fire-spinners and other eye-catching athletes in Palmer Square, participants try to focus their minds while honing their physical abilities. | Austen Cloud

Austen Cloud

“I love how outgoing it’s made her, because she’s exposed to people who are trustworthy and who she doesn’t have to fear talking to. That has really had a big impact on her personality,” he says. “I feel like it brings out her willingness to go hang out with people that she doesn’t know and just walk up to them and say, ‘Hey, that looks fun, can I play it?’”

Cloud makes a point to say the group is open to newcomers of every age and hopes the feeling of accomplishing a new trick that had seemed impossible keeps them coming back.

“I think that self-empowerment aspect is what appeals to me and a lot of other people. It’s a structured system of goals that you can repeatedly prove to yourself that everything seems difficult at first until you learn how to do it, and then it’s easy,” he says. “And I love that I can have endless fun with a ball on a string and create art while doing it.”

Ale Russian is a writer and communications professional whose work has appeared in People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone and iHeartMedia.

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