The police have become less tolerant. The “secret spot” was shut down for good, and the art has been unofficially relegated to back yards and private land. Most spinners practice with “glow” versions of their equipment (that don’t involve fire at all), but even that seems too risky for the po-po — a group of early-evening spinners was recently booted from a park near Boston University, where they were practicing, unlit. Apparently, outside the parameters of a warehouse rave or a seventh grader’s sleepover party, glow sticks are cause for alarm.
Of course, there is always the moron who ruins it for everyone, whose sheer recklessness usually calls attention to the negative.
“Almost without a doubt, every spinning community will have the same two principal kinds of people,” says Ted LeCouteur, the owner of the Los Angeles–based Bearclaw Manufacturing, a leading resource for fire-performance equipment, from basics like fuel and wicks, to staples like poi and staffs, to captivating flammable props like wings, fingers, and parasols. “[There’s] the people with some maturity and an eye toward the long-term success of the art, either for financial purposes or because they love the art and want it to continue — those people are going to work with fire marshals, as opposed to against them, [and] will find legal ways to spin. They’ll do whatever they can to make things happen well. Then, there’s the other type of people — the ones that watch Jackass or YouTube — and they see these people breathing fire with alcohol like 151, or see them spinning with toilet brushes and gasoline, and they’ll do idiotic things. They perform, certainly — they’re doing stuff with fire in front of an audience — but they by no means have a love for the art that the dancers and martial artists have for it. So, if they get caught or they damage the reputation of fire performance, they don’t care.”
FIRE BALL: Fire spinning began as a form of storytelling and exercise among the Maori of New Zealand, but has since been embraced by everyone from circus performers to goths.
East Coast–West Coast Flame War
Besides existing under the iron fist of brittle safety restrictions, the East Coast spinning community is relatively young, compared with its cultural forefathers 3000 miles away. “The West Coast has the oldest spinning communities in the US,” says Draconik’s Bennett. “They have more set ways [in terms of] their culture, and they don’t want it to go mainstream. However, the only real established fire-arts schools are there [on the West Coast], so they’re actually closer to making it mainstream than the East Coast. It’s an interesting dynamic."
Ironically, though Boston’s fire-spinning community is young, its buildings are crippled with age. This, of course, does not help make a case for you when you want to dance indoors, merrily waving lit objects like beacons of avant-garde artistry.
“I actually think the biggest difference between the two coasts is the era of their respective settlements,” says LeCouteur. “The buildings there in Boston are from the 1800s. A lot of the venues that we have out here in LA were built within the last decade or so, and they’re principally constructed of stone. Here, partially because of the earthquakes and the heat, everything has some kind of fire-restraint system.”