Fire dancing

Fire dancing

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 apparatus

The various tools used by the fire performance community borrow from a variety of sources. many have martial sources like swords, staves, poi, and whips, where some seem specifically designed for the fire community. The use of these tools are limited only by the imaginations of their users. Some tools lend themselves to rhythmic swinging and twirling, others to martial kata, and others to more subtle use. Some common tools are:

*Poi - A pair of roughly arm-length chains with handles attached to one end, and bundle of wicking material on the other.
*Staff - A rod of wood or metal, with wicking material applied to one, or both ends. Staves are generally used in pairs or individually, though many performers are now experimenting with three or more staves.
*Fire hoop - hoop with spokes and wicking material attached.
*Nunchaku - Nunchaku with wicking material, usually at either end.
*Fire stick - Like a traditional devil stick, with wicks on both ends of the center stick.
*Fire meteor - A long length of chain or rope with wicks, or small bowls of liquid fuel, attached to both ends.
*Torch - A short club or torch, with a wick on one end, and swung like Indian clubs or tossed end-over-end like juggling clubs.
*Fire Sword - either a real sword modified for fire, or one specifically built for the purpose of fire shows.
*Fire-knives - Short staves with blades attached to the ends and wicking material applied to the blade. Fireknives are the traditional Polynesian fire implement and have been in use since the 1940s.
* Fire Rope Dart - A wick, sometimes wrapped around a steel spike, at the end of a rope or chain ranging from 6-15 feet long, with a ring or other handle on the opposite end.
*Chi ball - 2 rings or handles with a wick attached between them by a thin wire.
*Fans - A large metal fan with one or more wicks attached to the edges.
*Finger wands - Short torches attached to individual fingers.
*Palm torches - Small torches with a flat base meant to be held upright in the palm of the hand.
*Fire Whips - Lengths of braided aramid fiber tapered to make a bullwhip, usually with a metal handle about 12 inches long.
*jumblymambas-a triple ended fire object for juggling ,twirling and manipulationThe variety of available tools took a sharp swing upwards in 2000, and as the numbers of dedicated fire tool makers increase, many makers add their own ingenuity to the art and expand the performance potential even more. Frequently, new tools appear from home tinkering and enter the public domain after a few performances.

Materials and construction

The typical construction of fire performance tools involves a metallic structure with wicking material made from fiberglass, cotton, or Kevlar blended with fiberglass, 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 wicks made of such disintegrate after relatively few uses, and can come apart during use, showering the fire 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 out 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. 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. Metal staves generally have a length of wooden dowel inserted into each end; holes are drilled through the metal to allow the wicks' screws to gain firm purchase on the wooden core. A grip of some sort is usually fashioned in the centre 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 Construction = Building 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.

* BALANCE - Balance is how the weight is distributed in the implement. It is critical when making staffs, torches, hula hoops, clubs and swords, as balance will determine the axis around which the implement rotates. This consideration is irrelevant with poi, and ropedarts as all the weight is naturally concentrated at one end.
* WEIGHT - Making implements heavier will, up to a certain point, allow you to spin them faster. However weight will also make the implement increasingly unwieldy. Also, heavy implements are more likely to lead to repetitive stress disorder, and cause injuries if you make mistakes. Heavier implements make certain types of contact juggling much easier, and certain high speed manipulation more difficult.
* DRAG - Generally, the more exposed surface area of wick you have the bigger flame you will have. The more total wick [as in thicker rolls] the more fuel your implement will hold and the longer it will burn, and the heavier, and more expensive it will be. The more fuel your tool holds the more the apparent drag based on the added weight of the fuel after dipping.

* COST - The unofficial fourth factor is cost. Frequently new prop development, and sometimes even building standard designs, require extra materials and tools that are not readily available. Even dedicated home tinkerers find themselves weighing the cost of purchasing versus the cost and time of build at home.


Nearly all modern fire dancing apparatus rely on a liquid fuel held in the wick. There are many choices for fuels, each differing in properties. Individuals select a fuel or a blend of fuels based on safety, cost, availability, and the desirability of various characteristics like color of flame, heat of flame, and solubility. There are also geographic variances in fuels used, based on local availability, pricing and community perception, for example American firespinners commonly use coleman gas or 50/50 mixes whilst British firespinners almost exclusively use paraffin oil (which the Americans call kerosene or jet fuel). Frequently, particularly in areas not fully industrialized, the fuel available is the residue from productions of more refined fuels. Traveling performers can find themselves spinning highly toxic, smokey, or carcinogenic fuels.

*Iso-paraffin oil, also known as 'pegasol 3440 special' is an iso-paraffin. Its MSDS lists it as Naphtha (petroleum), heavy alkylate. This is the Australian version of White Gas. "'NB: Shellsol T is listed as an equivalent/replacement by both mobil and shell tech support (and prior to my amendment, this wiki), whilst the combustible characteristics of Shellsol T and Pegasol 3440 are very similar, the toxic properties are VERY different, Shellsol features the following hazards either not present in 3440, or present to a lesser degree;Acute Toxicity (Oral)Eye IrritationOrgan Damage (Listed as through inhalation, one can imagine ingestion is a bad idea)Reproductive ToxicityRespiratory IrritationSkin Corrosion/IrritationSuspected of damaging the unborn child."'

*White gas, also known as Coleman fuel, naphtha, or petroleum ether - This hot, volatile fuel is popular because it is easy to ignite, burns brightly, evaporates cleanly, and does not leave smoke or residues on wicks and bodies. However, it burns hot and quick, limiting the burn time, and potentially increasing the risk of burns. This is the preferred fuel for most indoor venues and thus a must for performers who do indoor shows. Becoming increasingly more difficult to obtain in the US due to its alternate use in Meth-amphetamine production.

*Kerosene/paraffin oil - This is a popular fuel due to its low cost and long burn times. Kerosene is an extremely generic term that covers a broad range of fuels ranging from gasoline to diesel fuel. Almost every maker of Kerosene has a wildly different purity standard with flash points varying from bottle to bottle. Some home fuel oils are nearly pure paraffins (alkanes and iso-alkanes) whereas others are almost completely benzenes, and refinery residue.

*Lamp oil - Lamp oil is an oily, non-volatile fuel. Typically sporting the highest flash point of all the petrol distillates in liquid form, lamp oils are the most difficult to light and longest burning fuels. Many products sold as lamp oil contain a limited amount of non-alkane petrol distillates (benzene, et al), and many have colorings and scent additives that have some toxic potential. Even the purest grades of lamp oil burn quite smoky (though less irritating and toxic), and thus make it preferred for outdoor use. The soot from burned lamp oil can be difficult to wash out of clothing.

*Alcohol fuels are usually ethanol, methanol, or isopropyl. Industrial or lab alcohol is usually ethanol with methanol, acetone or other denaturing agents added. Denatured alcohols can be up to 95% ethanol, or as little as 50%. An MSDS sheet of the mixture will indicate the exact contents.

:Note: The flame is blue to orange, depending on methanol content, and fairly dim. However, when mixed with chemicals such as lithium chloride, copper chloride and boric acid, various colors of flame can be created. Lithium compounds produce pinks, copper compounds produce greens and blues, and boric acid produces green. Other chemicals may produce other colors, and performers often experiment with various choices. Use of chemicals like these may produce some toxic vapors, and have a tendency to destroy wicks. Due to the weak flame, price and toxicity of methanol, it is usually only used for coloured flame production and in mixes.

*Biodiesel - Biodiesel is a fuel produced by refinement or transesterification of vegetable oil (used or virgin) using methoxide composed of methanol and lye. Both KOH, potassium hydroxide and NaOH, sodium hydroxide can be used in the process but only one or the other, never both in the same batch. This produces glycerin and methyl esters, aka Biodiesel. The fuel is designed for use in diesel vehicles, but is a fairly safe and practical fuel for fire performance. Like kerosene, it is difficult to ignite by itself, and produces a dim, long-lasting flame that may smell a bit like french fries, depending on the source. It is often mixed with white gas to produce an easy-to-ignite, long-burning fuel.

Modern Developments in Fire Performance

During the period from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s Fire Dancing grew from a relatively obscure and marginalized native tradition and circus art to a widespread and almost commonplace occurrence at venues and events as diverse as raves, rock concerts, night clubs, beach parties, camping festivals, cabarets and hotel shows. Many attribute the rapid growth in popularity to the Burning Man festival, where many thousands were exposed to fire dancing who had never seen nor heard of it before. Also a powerful force was the rise of internet chat and bulletin board cultures, which allowed aspiring dancers in isolated areas to tap into the then limited pool of skilled performers far outside of their geographic confines.

As the number of fire dancers multiplied exponentially, individual performers and troupes began to experiment with new equipment concepts [i.e. beyond just the traditional staff, fireknives and poi] , and also with hybrid performance art concepts. The following is by no means an exclusive list of such show varieties. The categories are general, and tend to overlap on the fringes, and the quality of these shows have little to do with the type, but rather is directly related the skills of the individual performers.

* Traditional Fire Shows -- Traditional shows often incorporate Polynesian costuming and other cultural elements. Many conform to the guidelines or are inspired by the annual World Fireknife Competition and Samoa Festival.

*Standard Modern -- These usually include performers in tight and perhaps even risqué costumes with elaborate face paint, performing with Poi, Staffs and other standard implements. Such shows often include fire breathing techniques as well. Most people think of this type of performance when they think of fire dancing.

* Fire Theatre -- Such shows are theatrical shows which include fire and fire performance as elements of staged dramatic presentations. Often the fire performance is a small element of the larger show. These shows tend to use more elaborate props and costuming and focus less on technical skill.

* Fire Fetish Shows -- Such shows are recognizable by more overt sexuality in the performance and often extremely risque costuming, nudity and implied or actual sexual contact between performers, and are often seen as a fusion between exotic dancing or burlesque with fire dancing. Thus, fire fetish refers to a particular style of performance, and not a sexual fetish on the part of the performer, as would pyrophilia.

* Erotic Fire Show - Such shows may be seen as simply a normal improvised fire dance but with emphasis on sexually arousing body gyrations, seductive facial expressions, an eroticised musical selection (such as R&B or Downtempo music), and minimal clothing of the performer, thus promoting sexual arousal or desire in addition to the expected visual entertainment for an audience. Unlike a Fire Fetish show, this performance is generally more low-key, slower in tempo, and is often performed by a solo dancer in front of a small and select audience, typically a spouse or romantic partner. This performance is considered to be an active and visually exciting form of ritual foreplay.

* Ritual Fire Show -- Such shows are usually a fusion of Pagan or Occult ceremony with fire and fire performance. They focus less on technical skill, and more on the use of the fire dancer to highlight the ritual.

* Fire & Belly Dance -- Such shows are a fusion of Middle Eastern belly dancing [raqs sharqi] and combine elements of fire dancing and belly dancing. Often the dancers use palm torches and fire swords made to resemble scimitars.

Other variants and hybrid models continue to emerge as fire dancing becomes more widespread and commonplace.

ee also

*Devil sticks
*Dexterity play
*Fire safety
*Fire triangle
*Poi (juggling)
*Fire eating
*Fire breathing
*Arthur Brown

External links

* [ North American Fire Arts Associationg] International fire performance safety organization, with informational articles and local fire codes.
* [ Fire Dancing] World-wide resources for trainers & performers
* [ HomeofPoi] Largest online fire dancing community. Includes forum and shops
* [ Fire Warriors] Hawaii: Fire Warriors

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