By Jesse Marx
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Last December, Molly Rolfsmeier's friends phoned her at her south Minneapolis apartment at 3 a.m. because they had just seen their first flagger. "Kevin Kramer, a dancer from L.A., was brought in to do flagging for an Atons event," remembers Rolfsmeier. "My friends saw him and immediately thought flagging would be something I'd want to do." Her friends were right. Even though she was introduced to Kramer at 4 in the morning, Rolfsmeier spent the next eight hours in a trance-like, energizing high, learning the basic flagging, or fanning techniques. "It's like tai chi," she says. Rolfsmeier's friend, Terry Barnes, agrees. "You get your body preoccupied so that your mind is free to go elsewhere," he says. Barnes, 23, and one of the youngest flaggers in the United States, has had a banner season this year, spending most of his weekends on the road flagging at various parties and events across the country. He has appeared at the infamous Red Party in Columbus as well as the celebrity Delano bash in Palm Springs. "But flaggers do it for free," notes Barnes. "Asking for money would destroy the spirit of the thing."
Flaggers are free-style dancers who accompany their moves with banners, or flags, in highly coordinated and painstakingly learned routines. The flags themselves are rectangular pieces of fabric, roughly 24 inches by 18 inches, with two ends slightly weighted. Flagging evolved years ago as a sub-sub-sub-culture among the circuit party gulag, and now, the semi-hemi-demi-monde trend is starting to resurface.
Hotlanta, D.C.'s Cherry Delight, Miami's White Party, and Montreal's Black and Blue Party are among the noted venues for flaggers and their fans. But if you happened to glance up from the churning, pumping floor of Minneapolis' last sizzling Solar Party, you may have caught Rolfsmeier, a freelance stage technician, and Barnes, relocated from Columbus, Ohio, spinning and beating their fans like twin twisters caught in Mylar. And just as Rolfsmeier had found a mentor in L.A.'s Kramer, Barnes' teacher, or "flagger daddy," is Steven DeRose, the infamous hunk who grabbed the gold medal for Best Physique four years ago at the Gay Games in New York. Flaggers are always taught by older practitioners of the craft. "It's a very tribal experience," says Barnes. Fan routines are as stylistically structured (and well-preserved) as some pre-Columbian oral traditions. When he and Rolfsmeier first met, they could each detect which Coast had influenced the other's flagging. "Molly's West Coast and I'm East," grins Barnes.
Flagging, besides being a form of meditation and lots of fun to watch ("Especially during the day around a pool," says Rolfsmeier), is terrific for building upper body strength and has recently been recommended by some doctors as a form of therapy for people suffering from carpal tunnel. But even more important--what are the flags made of? "Lots of things," says Rolfsmeier. "Lycra, silk." The best flagging fabric is crystal organza, a gorgeous, luminous bridal-gown material usually available only in pretty pastels. "One of my goals is to find that organza in neon green," says Rolfsmeier. "I know it's out there!"