The art of glowsticking – beyond the nightclub

Members of the Illini Glowsticking Club spell out their initials with their glowsticks. Glowsticking consists of spinning glowsticks on strings to create complex shapes and patterns with the trails of light. Erica Magda

By Vince Dixon

Shiny wrappers are quickly torn open and a translucent plastic stick is removed, cracked and shook. Eventually, dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of small beams of pink, orange, yellow, green and blue light twirl above the heads of the sweaty, bouncing nightclub dancers. The sea of neon glow makes colorful, rainbow-like waves that seem to move in sync with the music.

That is not glowsticking, said Max Liu, junior in LAS; at least not the glowsticking he and other members of the Illini Glowsticking Club meet routinely to practice, discuss and perform.

Liu, who founded the club two years ago and is co-president, said real glowsticking is more of an art form with its roots linked to Hawaiian fire dancing and the ancient practice of poi, a New Zealand style of juggling.

“If you just take a glow stick and wave it around, that’s not glowsticking,” Liu said. “It’s not the same thing.”

“Real glowsticking” involves complicated tricks and techniques where performers toss and spin the sticks to create various patterns, Liu said, adding that it takes some glowstickers years to master the craft.

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Before he started, Liu didn’t even believe the glowsticking he saw on the Internet was real, he said.

“The stuff I saw in videos, I didn’t even think it was possible,” Liu said.

Five years ago, Liu decided to try the techniques himself. He said it took him a while to get used to swinging glowsticks around his body, but eventually, he got the hang of it, which encouraged him to start the Illini Glowsticking Club.

The club meets regularly to go over glowsticking tricks and to plan for campus events. Using Web sites such as and as resources, the group tries to promote glowsticking as an art and performance piece, Liu said.

Alexander Sun, freshman in LAS, recently joined the club and is now the co-president. He said the club teaches members how to glowstick and how to master popular techniques like weaving, wrapping and the basic butterfly. He said the club also encourages people to practice the style for fun.

“We just want to share the love of glowsticking,” Sun said, adding that he’d practiced the skill throughout high school and was excited to join the club once he came to the University. “It’s a hobby of mine, and I really enjoy doing it no matter what.”

When Sun and the club members aren’t practicing routines and methods, they perform for various student organizations and showcases, including the Illini Union Board’s Homegrown Talent Show and the Asian American Association’s annual fashion show, Sun said.

The organization considers itself a performance group as well as a club, so members meet to choreograph and get ready for future shows, while practicing personal skills and techniques on their own time, Liu said.

“A lot of us just like practicing by ourselves,” Liu said.

He said there are two basic glowsticking styles that most glowstickers and club members practice. Freehand involves placing glow sticks in each hand and carefully tossing and juggling them in the air. In the second style, called glowstringing, performers spin and form patterns with glow sticks tied to strings, Liu said.

Josh Glaser, sophomore in LAS, said he had never heard of freehand glowsticking or glowstringing until he saw them performed at his high school talent show. He said it was interesting to see.

“It’s a cool talent,” Glaser said. “I didn’t really think of it as an art form,” he added.

One aspect of glowsticking that makes it an art form is that many of the techniques involved are taken from various styles of dance and martial arts, Sun said. With around 10 active members, the Illini Glowsticking Club is happy to see others involved in the art.

“It feels pretty good to know that people are enjoying themselves while glowsticking,” Liu said.

The group plans to participate in more performances and shows. Liu added that the group does not have set meetings and usually just meets several weeks before individual performances. Members also keep in contact through the organization’s Facebook group, where upcoming show information and meeting times are posted.