Yoing as Performance/Entertainment/Artistry

A couple of weeks ago I got back into yoing after about a 10 year lay-off.

Over the last days I’ve watched a number of videos of people performing/competing - here, youtube, etc…, and find I may watch for a moment, but after seeing what often seems like a rapid-fire run-thru of tricks, I often stop watching well before the video is complete.

Of course, the level of technical skill is absolutely incredible. But after seeing the yo fly in, around and thru the string in rapid succession, for the XXth time, it made me wonder what role artistry or entertainment have in the yoing community in general, and how that is valued and emphasized.

Speed and rapid-fire can be great (!), and should be a required element, but if there is no variety, it can get kind of difficult to sit through.

In the Olympics, a number of sports have separate scores for technical and artistic achievement. In my somewhat limited experience with yo competitions & videos, things in the world of yo seem exceptionally skill-based.

For example, figure skating includes artistic scores, while ski jumping does not. Ski jumping doesn’t have any room, that I can see, for artistic scoring (heh), but there have got to be a world of possibilities in the world of yo.

Don’t get me wrong - I’m suggesting that there be any lessening of technical merit, but more thinking of an adding-on of other components. Nor am I suggesting that there is no one out there paying attention to artistry/variety (not variety of tricks, but variety in the structure and timing of a routine). Like I said, “…in my somewhat limited experience.”

Many times I have found myself saying things like:

“Is he ever going to slow down?”

“It is all happening so fast I can’t appreciate/enjoy the individual skills.”

“His music choice was really weird, considering what he was doing, and his style.”

In the world of magic there is a saying, “Magic for magicians.” These are the types of tricks that aren’t meant to entertain an audience as much as they are fool other magicians. On the other hand, performing magic (for money) has to combine technical skill and be able to entertain.

Of course, magic has always been about performing/entertaining for lay-audiences. Yoing seems to be a very “Yoing for Yoers” community. The intent is not to entertain non-yoers as much as it is to compete with other yoers.

There isn’t anything wrong with that. Nothing at all. I just see so much skill out there - and because of that, the potential for things that could be added to that incredible skill to make even more incredible experiences.

That said, I did find these judging elements re: a National Contest in Chico:

Choreography/Freestyle Construction:
Overall Impression:

Do you feel these elements are far out-weighed by purely technical elements in judging, or do you feel they are generally on equal footing?

Just thinking out loud and thought I would share. Time to end this novel! :slight_smile:

There’s more emphasis on the artistic and choreography elements these days. I do agree about the speed demon stuff. It is still artistic, but I can barely see what’s going on and to me, at least, it lacks the “appeal to the masses” because this type of play is strictly contest oriented and not “audience/entertainment” oriented.

Are things going to slow down?

Look at Jensen Kimmitt’s 2010 Worlds Performance in which he won. Then look at his 2011 performance, which wasn’t designed to win.

Look at Guy Wright. Amazing stuff! Not to single out Josh Yee, but I wonder why he competes sometimes. He’s bringing the art element back, but it’s just off-pace with what it takes to win, yet still amazing and entertaining to watch. I’d like to see him switch gears and just say “ah, screw it, I wanna win” and see what he can do.

Heck, look at the 2013 1A champion. Yes, some speed, but more tech at “faster than normal, but not too fast”. This was a well done performance.

2A requires a lot of speed elements.

3A: Hank Freeman has great speed control. Not too fast, not too slow, and it just flows.

4A isn’t all “breakneck” speed.

5A is getting to be 1A with speed now. Trying to track 2 moving objects hurts my eyes!!

1 Like

I was about halfway through your post and thought “I’m going to post about magic for magicians and explain”. Then I got to the quoted text. Too funny.

I’ve often thought the same thing about yo yoing in competitions. It does seem to be yo yoing for yoyoers.

1 Like

That’s hilarious - you about made my day with that!

I find this thread very fortuitous at this time as I have been contemplating ideas around this very theme for a few weeks now. As I have said on these forums ad nauseam this past week, I had the privilege of superintending the annual Yo-Yo competition last weekend for the Iowa State Fair. This very concern your are bringing up here proved to be one of the greatest challenges I faced when putting the program together. It was easy enough for me to host the contest. The venue obviously was no problem, I just had to show up and get out of the car. We were provided with a beautiful large stage with professional sound crew. (Even lighting had it been necessary.) I had a stage manager and assistants waiting to run the music for my contestants. A prominent local radio station granted me free promotional air time two weeks in a row, including an on-air interview the morning of the contest just because it was part of the great Iowa State Fair. That was all given willing to us for FREE.

My judges were the best that could be found anywhere. The way they evaluated each performer was professional and without bias. A portion of what you are considering is addressed from their score sheet. The categories by which each player was judge was Technical Skill+ and Technical Skill-. The players were also assessed on their aptitude and how clean their performance was. However the last three brackets get closer to what you are concerned about. The contestants were also evaluated on the appropriate choice of the music to accompany their routine and how well they synchronized their routine with their selection, originality of the tricks and maneuvers and stage presence. The last few begin to delve more into the entertainment value of the presentation as well as technical skill. It is important to recognize this, it would be unjustified to conclude some of what you are concerned about is not considered when judging a yo-yo competition because it is.

However when holding a yo-yo competition for the Iowa State Fair the heart of your concern was my greatest challenge. When throwing in front of an audience of other yoyoers just watching someone demonstrate accomplishment of skill is engaging enough. My audience certainly was made in substantial part by family members of contestants so just watching each child throw was absorbing enough to them. And frankly what the kids did brought a full measure of amusement for me to go home satisfied.

But I also had many who came by telling me they had heard me on the radio and came to see the “yo-yo show”. They were young and old, farmers and executives and they all expected to be entertained. You know what they were anticipating and wanting to see. Tommy Smothers or the Duncan Man who came to their grade school when they were young. I’m sure these folks were disappointed, that just is not what contemporary yo-yo competitions bring. There are certainly categories such as 2A which would more closely resemble what they may have been expecting, but they didn’t see any of that from my stage. So I attempted to interweave humor and giveaways to keep the people engaged and I am already contemplating how I can raise the “entertainment value” for Joe Six-Pack off the street next year.

All this suggests I may feel contemporary yo-yo contests are missing the mark a bit in their presentation. I do not. Here in central Iowa we are incredibly proud of a couple of young ladies named Shawn Johnson and Gabby Douglas. In two consecutive Summer Olympics they went to Beijing and London respectively and brought home gold medals in Women’s Gymnastics. They were the very best of the very best in their sport. We watched intently and learned much more than we ever had known before about gymnastics as a community because they were our girls up there. In years past I had drifted in and out of the ladies gymnastics portion of the Olympics. But when it was Shawn, our Shawn, I was on the edge of my seat and enjoyed every second immensely. The Olympics did not in any way curtail the presentation to make a more entertaining show. They couldn’t have if they had tried. My interest in Women’s Gymnastics is forever changed because a pretty young girl from my home town became one of the very best in the world. It wasn’t about the level of entertainment, it was about the accomplished skill of the athlete.

Yo-yoing and it’s performance has changed dramatically in the last 25 years. It’s no longer a stage show as it once may have been. It’s now a high skilled competition of accomplished players who didn’t come to pull rabbits out of hats or make the Ace of Spades suddenly appear in your back pocket. They are accomplished masters of precise string manipulation of a spinning aluminum object at very high speed. The show has become about the exhibition of skill, not entertaining the masses.

Certainly I will continue to strive to do things decidedly different at the Fair then they will be doing at the Iowa States competition in October. The demographic of my audience is considerably different. However don’t show up at the steak house and expect a chocolate malt. You need to go somewhere else for that.

Thanks for your thoughts, I appreciated reading them. This centers rather at the heart of my question, as I was curious what was at the heart of what I was seeing and wondering about - what is yoyo performance/competition today all about? Pure technical skill, or a balanced combination where artistry weighs as heavily as skill. It does seem that the majority of the weight is on the former. Which is fine.

(To be clear, I wasn’t at all suggesting that yoing needs to made more palatable to the general public. My personal opinion is that it can completely retain its skills requirement, and yet still broaden - in a good way - within its own niche :))

When I watch these skilled performers, I do see tremendous artistic potential that could be tapped.
I’ve got a friend who is a photographer. When I look at a photo that I take, its just a photo. When I look at one of his pictures, it tells a story. Its incredible. Just looking at a static photo, and I see a story. This is what runs through my mind.

I suppose that if things ever shift toward that in the world of competition, it will likely because some incredibly skillful men and women start doing something that really catches on. It may happen, it may not. The focus will likely always be where the majority of the players wish it to be. And that’s fine, too.

I think that in competition, there is definitely less of an emphasis on performance than there once was. It used to be that pretty much everyone was doing the same/similar tricks, so performance became a bigger part of it. Nowadays though, with yoyoers constantly making new tricks and with the level of trick difficulty today, the judging system has moved away from rewarding the performance aspect like it used to, in order to recognize the players with greater technical ability.

 However, with that being said, there are definitely still places to use yoyoing in an artistic fashion. At Worlds, there is actually an Artistic Performance division. And then there is video. I'm not talking about videos of competition, but videos that players make either just for fun or to showcase tricks. Videos like this often feature beautiful editing, and the tricks are often more on the artistic side of things rather than the competition style tricks. If you're interested in these kinds of videos, there are websites that regularly showcase videos like this. My favorites are Yoyonews.com and Yoyoskills.com.

I hope this helps!

1 Like

It does, very much!

I have to remind myself that most of the folks on this board know more about what is going around the community on than I do. Thanks!

You’re welcome!