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Fire Dance | Pyro Danza | Costa Rica
About Fire dancing
A fire twirler with staff
Fire Gypsy performing with Fire Poi at a club in NYC.
An urban fire dance
A fireknife dancer with a fire knife
A fire dancer spinning poi consisting of lit wire wool inchicken wire cages, dipped first in paraffin. Long-exposure photography captures the trails created by sparks. While spectacular, this act is particularly dangerous to both the artist and the audience.
Spinning fire dancers of Udaipur perform traditional dance.
Fire dancer with a torch
Fire dancing (also known as fire twirling, fire spinning, fire performance, or fire manipulation) is a group of performance arts or disciplines that involve manipulation of objects on fire. Typically these objects have one or more bundles of wicking, which are soaked in fuel and ignited.
Some of these disciplines are related to juggling or baton twirling (both forms of object manipulation), and there is also an affinity between fire dancing and rhythmic gymnastics. Firedancing is often performed to music. Fire dancing has been a traditional part of cultures from around the world, and modern fire performance often includes visual and stylistic elements from many traditions.
Fire dancing is a very dangerous performance art, and fire safety precautions should always be taken.
Materials and constructionThe typical construction of fire performance tools involves a metallic structure with wicking material made from fibreglass, cotton, or Kevlar blended with fibreglass, Nomex, and other poly-aramids. Kevlar-blend wicks are the most common, and are considered standard equipment in modern fire performance. Though most wick suppliers refer to their wick simply as Kevlar, almost no suppliers sell a 100% Kevlar wick, which is both expensive and not particularly absorbent. Most serious contemporary performers avoid cotton and other natural materials because such wicks disintegrate after relatively few uses, and can come apart during use, showering the performer and audience with flaming debris.
A typical poi construction would consist of a single or double-looped handle made of webbing, Kevlar fabric, or leather. This is connected to a swivel and a length of chain or cable. This chain or cable then connects to another swivel, and then to the wick, which is made out of tape wick (a wide, flat webbing made of wick material), or rope wick. The wick material is typically folded or tied to a central core in either a knot or lanyard-type fold.
The chain or cable can be anything from stainless steel wire rope (preferred by some for its low cost, light weight, high strength, and almost invisible profile, but not by others because it tangles easily) to dog chain (preferred by some for its heft and low cost) to industrial ball chain, which is the most common chain for fire performance equipment. Made of nickel-plated steel, stainless steel, or black-oxide brass, ball chain in the #13 to #20 size ranges provides excellent strength, a fluid feel, and great tangle prevention. Since every link on the chain swivels, one can eliminate dedicated swivels from a design, and body wrapping and chain wrapping moves become much easier. Extra cost and a higher weight to durability ratio are the biggest downsides to ball chain.
A fire staff typically consists of a long cylindrical section of either aluminium tube (lighter, more suitable for fast-spinning tricks) or wood (heavier, more suited to 'contact' moves in which the staff retains contact with the performer throughout the trick; see contact juggling) with a length of wick secured at either end, usually with screws. Modern contact staves are made from aluminum pipe with wooden dowels glued into the ends for weight. Wooden-cored staves often have thin sheet metal wrapped around the ends to prevent charring of the wood from the heat - this will have holes drilled through it to allow the wick to be screwed securely into the core. Wooden staves are rarely used anymore and are considered a safety hazard. A grip of some sort is usually fashioned in the center of the staff to provide a comfortable hand-hold - most commonly leather, or a soft, self-adhesive grip of a type designed for hockey sticks or tennis rackets.
Important factors in equipment constructionBuilding high quality fire performance equipment involves the balancing of a number of factors to achieve performance suited for the specific intended use by the performer. Even if you are planning on buying prefabricated equipment, understanding the following factors and how they interrelate will allow you to best purchase the right implement.
SafetyBurns: Metal parts on fire tools have a high heat transfer coefficient and may burn on contact; the wick has a lower coefficient and is less likely to cause burns directly, but can transfer fuel onto a performer if they hit themselves. This is why performers remove the excess fuel from their props before performing. Though burns don't often happen, performers always carry a first aid kit just in case.
Clothing: Costumes from non-flammable or flame retardant materials, such as leather or cotton, are preferred when employing fire; synthetic materials tend to melt when burned, resulting in severe burns to the wearer. Most fire spinners recommend wearing 100% natural fibers like cotton, wool, leather, silk and bamboo. Wearing treated fire-retardant clothing isn't near as safe since it will wash off over time.
Fire Tools: All fire tools are checked before each performance or use to make sure there are no flaws, loose connections, frayed kevlar, or other problems.
Fire Safety: When performing, a fire safety should always be present. A fire safety is someone who is trained to use the fuel dump, safety equipment, and has had hands on training on how to deal with situations such as a performer catching fire, crowd control, and stage management. The fire safety has a duvetyne or damp towel with them at all times during the performance. When the performer is finished and the tools are still lit, the safety places the duvetyne on the floor, the lit props are placed in the middle of the duvetyne, and the duvetyne is folded in onto the props to extinguish. The duvetyne is also used to put out fire on the performer if necessary. A fire extinguisher should never be used on a person.
Fuel Dump: A fuel dump is where the fuel is stored and where the equipment is fueled. The most recommended and safest fuel dump is called a double bucket system. A double bucket system consists of a five gallon bucket and lid with a one gallon metal pain can and lid inside. The fuel is stored in the paint can. When not fueling, the lids are kept on. If the paint can of fuel ever catches fire, the five gallon bucket lid is placed on and the fire extinguishes. The fuel dump is to be kept backstage, away from non-performers. An ABC Dry Chemical fire extinguisher should be kept next to the fuel dump at all times. Never put fuel in a plastic container. If the lid is off and the container catches, the plastic will melt and the fuel will be dispersed onto the ground. Never put fuel in a glass container. Glass breaks, and then you have fuel all over the ground.
Fueling: Once props are fueled, the performer squeezes off any extra fuel back into the fuel dump, or uses a spin off can to remove excess fuel. A spin off can is a separate paint can with handle that the performer places their poi in to hang an inch or two from the bottom of the can, and holds the chain and handle of the can together. The performer or safety then spins the can vertically in fast circles to collect any extra fuel into the spin off can. The extra fuel is then poured back into the fuel dump. By doing this, the performer eliminates the possibility of fuel spitting off during the performance.
HistoryFire dancing using different techniques is a part of the historic culture of some areas of the world. The oldest practice of fire dancing is Samoa known as Siva Afi and Fire Knife. The fire knife dance has its roots in the ancient Samoan exhibition called "ailao" - the flashy demonstration of a Samoan warrior's battle prowess through artful twirling, throwing and catching, and dancing with a war club while on fire. The 'ailao could be performed with any warclub and some colonial accounts confirm that women also performed 'ailao at the head of ceremonial processions, especially daughters of high chiefs. During night dances torches were often twirled and swung about by dancers, although a warclub was the usual implement used for 'ailao. Ancient Aztecs performed a fire dance dedicated to Xiuhtecuhtli, the god of fire. The Aztec fire dance is performed today for tourists in Mexico. In Bali, the Angel Dance and the Fire Dance, regularly performed for tourists, have origins in ancient rituals. Both the Angel Dance and the Fire Dance originated in a trance ritual called the sanghyang, a ritual dance "performed to ward off witches at the time of an epidemic." Also known as the "horse dance" men perform the dance by holding rods representing horses, while leaping around burning coconut husks, and walking through the flames. French Polynesia, Antigua, Cuba and Saint Lucia are other locations where fire dances are recreated for tourists. The Siddha Jats of the Thar Desert in India perform traditional fire dances as part of the Spring festival. Fire dancing is performed to music played on drums and the behr. There are variations of the fire dancing; men often perform a dance that involves walking on hot coals, while women perform a dance while balancing flaming tin pots on their heads. Today this ritual is often performed for tourists.
Modern developments in fire performance
As the number of fire dancers increases, more performance art concepts are brought into existence expanding outside of traditional dances. Individual performers and fire troupes use expand the culture of fire performance. The following is an incomplete list of such show varieties, whose categories are general and tend to overlap.
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