Fire- A dancer’s perspective

As many can relate, I have always been drawn to the element of fire. It’s warmth, light, and dancing orange flames instantly create magic. It is a strong and passionate element, and it can go from gentle heat and flickering flame to intense, blazing inferno in mere moments. When one is working with fire she must stay focused and keep it in check at all times because fire can quickly get out of control. On that note, I am very careful in working with fire energy and spirits. Rarely will I summon them or ask for their help around my house because it can quickly go haywire. If to much fire energy comes your way then you could find yourself in a heap of trouble. I also don’t want fire spirits drawn to my house because I feel I am just waiting for something to burst into flames.

A duet with fingers and staff.

A duet with fingers and staff.

I love to build fires outdoors, such as during a camping trip. It’s deeply satisfying to start with nothing and slowly craft a beautiful campfire. I have noticed that not all possess this ability to build a nice fire, but it is a skill that can be learned. Once the campfire is blazing I love to tend it and watch it develop and change throughout the night. I also love gazing into it and doing a little divining in the flames.

I do a lot of work with candles, because that is a nice small, controllable flame that does a great job representing the element. But the most common way I use fire is dancing with it. I have been fire dancing for about thirteen years now, and I have had a performing company for around six.

Dancing with fire is a great way to become familiar with its intense energy. When it’s whirling around your head it feeds you energy, and it is very difficult to hear anything outside the roar of the flame. I am a fairly seasoned performer, but the first time I performed with fire was one of the most intense performance experiences I’ve ever had. I was in front of around 100 people and I was nervous because I had never performed with fire. Then the energy of the fire itself fueled that nervous energy until my heart was pounding out of my chest. At the end of my set I was really shaky and super pumped up on adrenaline. I have since experienced that through my dancers as I train them to perform with fire. They often have the same experience when I light them up for the first time, and again when they hit the stage with fire for the inaugural performance.

A little trio- they totally hated those shiny pants :)

A little trio- they totally hated those shiny pants 🙂

I have a non-fire dance company as well, and they do not all have an interest in working with fire. A few are very scared of it, and one, after performing in a number of fire shows, had to finally bow out. She just could not get a hold of her fear of the flame, and never got past the fear of getting burned. And I have to give my dancers credit, because although they are not doing poi or staff, they are performing intricate dances in tight quarters with torches or fans in their hands. They have to have extreme spacial awareness of they will burn one another. It really is a special skill, and it looks really incredible when six dancers are holding torches performing full-blown dance routines in perfect synchronicity.

There are a number of ways I call on the fire spirits before a show. There are a lot of moving pieces in the performance puzzle, and producing a good show means having everything timed out so there is always fire and the flame doesn’t go out in the middle. This is not easy. Weather, wind, and fuel types effect burn times and heat levels, and it does not look good if a dancer has to throw down her fire toy in the middle because it gets to hot. And it really sucks if the torches burn out to early before the dance is over. That pretty much ruins a good grand finale. So I’m always back there, praying to the fire spirits, hoping to be in their good graces to pull off a flawless show.

Yours truly working the poi.

Yours truly working the poi.

People always ask me if I get burned. Of course I get burned and I’ve been burned a lot. You always work with fire safety, but it is still fire and it does burn. I always stick to the old saying, if you’re playing with fire, you’re going to get burned. However, you can keep burnings to a minimum, and I am especially careful with my dancers to assure they very seldom get burned. With them I have only had a couple minor burns, with myself it is a different story. When I first started working with fire I was anally careful. Now when I am alone I can be bad and really have to keep myself in check. I have lost a lot of that instinctual fear of the flames over the years, but always try and remind myself to not become complacent because that is when bad things happen. But for shows I’m all about safety for everyone, the dancers, the audience, and the venue. It would be pretty bad to burn a dancer or audience member, and I’d be in a heap of trouble if I burned down a venue.

So I have a fairly close relationship with my fire spirit friends. I believe we have worked it out so they are with me during dance rehearsals and performances, but do not follow me back to the house. Fire dancing has given me a lot of interesting opportunities and performance experiences, and I can’t explain how amazing it feels to have those flaming poi flying around my head and know I am in control of where they go. Fire has a very special magic, but it must be approached with extreme caution as it can both create and destroy.

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