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October 29, 2009

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Freestyle bartending with flair

FLAMBOYANT mixologists from around the world pour, juggle, dance, ignite spirits and dazzle the audience in a contest to find the barman-entertainer with the most flair. Michelle Zhang applauds. Some of the world's best bartenders gathered recently in Shanghai to compete in the SKYY Flair Global Challenge, one of the most important competitions for the art of flair worldwide.

For those who don't know what flair bartending is, it refers to the dazzling performances a bartender puts on while mixing a drink to entertain the guests. Flair can include juggling, flipping (bottles, shakers), manipulating flammable liquors or even performing close-up magic tricks.

Flairing dates back to the early 1800s when bartenders used to mix firey liquids to impress their customers. Today, it is considered a sport and a lifestyle by many. A flair bartender is not only a bartender, but also an entertainer.

At the Shanghai final last weekend, 16 contenders from countries such as France, Italy, Germany and Japan danced with glass and liquids and added loud music beats, to the flashes of photographer and of course, screams from the enthusiastic audience.

All competitors were assessed on criteria including originality, variety, smoothness of routine, skill and difficulty, music interaction, entertainment and overall performance.

The champion, Danillo Oribe de la Puente from Uruguay, was awarded a top prize of 7,000 euros (US$10,512).

"I'm very satisfied with my performance tonight, but I didn't expect I would win because all the others are pretty good," says the 26-year-old who currently works in Las Vegas.

It is the second time de la Puente has attended the annual competition. He has been practicing flair for almost seven years. "I've been working hard on creating new moves and combining them with music," he says.

"What I'm really interested to see is how creative the contenders can be," says Tom Dyer, one of the founders of World Flair Association (WFA), which organized the event together with SKYY vodka.

"It's always good to see that if they put some of their culture and some of their own ideas into their flair," he adds.

Dyer began his flairing career back in 2000. A talented mixologist, he has pushed the sport of flair into new directions and is highly regarded as one of the most innovative, original and technical flair bartenders in the world.

He has competed in and won most competitions in the past five years and has made a name for himself not only as an exhibition and competition bartender but as a renowned trainer with a fountain of knowledge when it comes to flair.

During his short stay in Shanghai, he held a seminar to demonstrate and teach local bartenders essential flair techniques. It is the first time that WFA flair masters have held lectures in China.

"China is still such a small market for flair," Dyer says. "However, from what I've heard and what I've seen on the Internet, I know that there are already a lot of flair bartenders all around China.

"From what I've seen, they've got discipline when they practice," he continues. "They can see a move and pick it up very quickly."

Founded in 2007, WFA is a global network of bartenders. It has more than 4,000 members from more than 120 countries, including China.

WFA bartenders work at all types of clubs, pubs, restaurants and bars, from small local establishments to major destination resorts and clubs, says Andy Collinson, another WFA founder.

"Our mission is to help to teach the art of flair, grow the sport of freestyle bartending and bring it to the mass market," he concludes.


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