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Walking down the bizarre world of First Friday, I pause at shops, shuffle through knickknacks, pass food trucks while steering past people holding pamphlets. Reaching a dead end, I start back but the sound of fire crackling halts my tracks.
It’s called fire spinning, an ancient dance with fire.
A riff of an electric guitar greets the fire performers as they take the stage. A woman in a green skirt swirls fans cast in iron, laced in red flames. A man in black jeans spins a contact staff, the ends lit in crimson flames. A woman in a top hat cackles beneath the stage, dazzling onlookers with her flaming hula hoop, the thick circle swallowing her up in a thin trail of embers, the hoop moving up and down her twirling form.
A cop saunters onto the stage his face crunching into a glare as he shakes his head, the drum beats on the stereo rising in tempo. Another guitar riff wails from above as three girls covered in thick white zombie face paint make their way onto the scene, their fans lit in green flames. A battle ensues, the cop wielding a ball of fire attached to a rope whips across the platform as the zombies and fire party goers fight in theatrical dueling sequences. There’s a snapshot of feuding fans, one performer with a fan of red fire, the other with the dreaded green fire. There’s a glimpse of the final battle, when all the fire turns green and the zombies eat brains.
“There was a love story in there somewhere,” says Kristal Joy ‘Sizzles’ Roehr, who has three years experience as a fire spinner and uses fans, “That’s what we’re trying to do with Pyro Sagas we’re trying to tell stories.”
“It keeps my body active, but quiets my mind. It’s like active meditation,” says David Funk, a fire spinner with seven years experience who’s weapon of choice is poi.
As a pirate makes his way onto the stage, zombies lurch off into the distance. He strides across the platform clicking his heels, his smile wide beneath his black and white bandanna. Arabian belly dancing music floats through the embedded stereo system; ripples of drums, plucks of strange guitar strings, tingles of flute whistles, flakes of bells, hints of cymbals.
A trail of women dressed in leather and stripes and lace corsets adorned in pirate hats, eye patches and parrots prance onto the stage. Fans set ablaze drift out in different directions transforming the girls into an eight-armed fire breathing beast. Their arms float up and down making the monster heave and moan. They spin and dance the fans trading for staffs, the girls switching places, the dancers trading tools, drifting atop the stage, spinning below in hoops lit in flames.
The pirate reemerges with a large staff lit at both ends. He rubs his hands together and the staff flies upwards casting out mushroom clouds of fire. The pirate nods to his cohort wenches and the troop erupts in spins and twirls, hoops blazing, tosses and catches, staffs flying, bends and weaves, poi bouncing, lifts and mixed, fans fanning.
“We’re a dance troupe with a fire problem,” the pirate known as Spark beams into the microphone as the dancers wearily let loose their toys and make their way back to the stage for bows.
People from all over the world have been worshipping fire for centuries.
Ancient Aztecs performed a ritualistic fire dance dedicated to Xiuhtecuhtli, the god of fire. The Samoan knife dance native to Hawaii, known as Ailao, is traditionally used with a machete set on fire. The Maori people of New Zealand are credited as the originators of poi, which evolved into fire poi, and became used as a form of storytelling and dance.
A Facebook page for The Las Vegas Fire Club has more than 100 members and is growing, according to the group’s members. First Friday has two fire troops which perform monthly. These guilds also perform numerous shows throughout Nevada. Pyro Sagas recently did a volunteer show in California to raise money for volunteer fire fighter equipment. Flameology is an official burner group for Burning Man having made it into the inner circle, called the fire conclave, three years in a row.
“I’m not making money doing this, it doesn’t matter that I don’t make a penny doing this right now, I’m sharing my purpose, you can share your love for others through your passion,” says Kim Izabella Isamazing Blake, who has been fire spinning for five years, mostly with the hula hoop. CL