Whatever the differences, it’s clear that the West Coast has an edge on us (and not just because they now have Manny Ramirez). The brightest bulbs in the axis of the US fire-spinning community are California’s FireDrums (a weekend retreat featuring . . . ready for it? Fire . . . and . . . drums!) and Burning Man, that notorious annual festival in northern Nevada that is just as much a punch line for jokes about patchouli as it is a legendary orgy of self-expression. Once a year, the circus freaks, art geeks, and vegan chic of the world flock in droves to the desert to build a temporary community where anything and everything goes. “Fire is an empowering essence,” says Crimson Rose, an artist and dancer who, as the managing art director for Burning Man’s corporate arm, Black Rock City LLC, sits on the Burning Man board of directors. “It’s never about control — it’s about being one with the flame, about being able to empower oneself with the utilization of fire.”
It was amid the Burning Man madness that Bennett, a trained dancer and accomplished martial artist, caught his first glimpse of fire spinning. “To me, it was a combination of dance, martial arts, and fire,” he remembers, “and it absolutely called out to me. There is so much that the spinning art can offer anyone — the dexterity involved, the inherently learned relationship between your mind and body. To me, there’s huge value in this art.”
Upon this faith in artistic value, Bennett founded WildFire, New England’s answer to its wacky festival cousins, now in its fourth year. The Connecticut weekend retreat (held twice a year, in the spring and the autumn) is a cornucopia of classes, workshops, and free spins, open to anyone at any level who’s serious about learning the fire arts. (For more information, visit wildfireretreat.com.) Though the festival is still just a spark, relatively speaking, it’s helping to cultivate a strong East Coast fire community.
Fellow Draconik member and WildFire instructor Dominique Immora began spinning poi while she was a student at Brandeis University, dorking it up with the juggling club. She first experienced fire spinning at the now defunct Eerie Events, an annual Halloween extravaganza formerly held at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. “I met some people who had recently been to Europe, where spinning was much more prevalent, and come back with fire skills,” she says. “I watched a girl who was spinning poi, which was different than juggling and staff spinning and all these other things that seemed male-dominated. It was so ethereal and beautiful, and I wanted to be part of that.”
A long-time member of local burlesque troupe the Boston Babydolls, Dominique Immora has incorporated poi and hula hoops into her striptease acts. If watching someone spin a fiery object seems mesmerizing, imagine that someone is also a gorgeous porcelain creature slithering out of a sparkly dress while a ring of fire, never missing a single revolution, flashes around her hips like a centrifuge. “When you get onstage with fire, there’s an immediate wow factor,” she says. “The audience pays attention, because it’s dangerous, because human eyes are attracted to moving light. You can immediately feel its presence.” Of course, Thomas Edison made a killing on this premise. But he didn’t do it in a corset and heels.