Fire Dance With Me

Categories: 3 Questions

Steve Poreda lives something of a contradictory life. He owns a toy company, his nickname is Mr. Fun and he calls his home the 'Funhouse.' But he has a serious side too. And comes out on stage, lighted by fire. Poreda formed Illumination Fire Performance Troupe in 2000, and since then, he and his band of pyro-amorous performers have spread the art of fire dancing all over the Twin Cities. The way he talks about fire is the way a sailor talks about the sea: with great appreciation for such a beautiful thing and with a respectful amount of fear. He is says he’s spiritually connected to flames, and he wants others to see it the way he does. This Friday Illumination will perform a Winter Solstice celebration at the Cedar Cultural Center.

City Pages: How did you get into performing with fire?

Steve Poreda: I own a toy company, Mystik Toyz, and we would do a lot of festivals and events. In 1999, I was at a festival with staff, performing and teaching the toys. Some of my west coast friends working with me were performing with fire, and I was seeing them perform with fire for the first time. So as a result of my performing and juggling, it was just a natural fit to get into fire spinning and dancing. Over the past 7 years, we’ve created a fire spinning community that we’ve been harvesting through classes and events ever since. It’s something that once somebody sees, they never forget.
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CP: What is the difference between fire spinning and fire dancing?
SP: Spinning and dancing. Spinning is learning, but dancing is using what you learn in an artistic way. And It manifests itself beautifully after that. And I brought what I learned to the community. It’s through non-fire props that people learn the skills.
Every other Thursday we have a spinning class with mostly non-fire props. We also hold a fire props making workshop every fall and spring. There are a lot of fire spinners in the community, but a much small percentage of them actually dance. And a handful of them are committed to the troupe.

CP: Break down of what some of the acts are.
SP: Fleshing: Body burning. It’s most commonly done with white gas, like Coleman camping fuel. But lamp oil is also popular. White gas burns white and the least odorous fuel. It’s also more combustible and it evaporates, so if you spill it, the flame doesn’t go with it. Lamp oil smells, but burns longer and has an orange flame. Sometimes you mix them if you want to have a mix of the colors. You dip your wand in the fuel, and you leave streaks of flame on your body, on your arms and on your chest. The fuel is primarily is what’s burning, but if you push harder, you’ll feel it and get a burn, no doubt. But, part of the dance move is blowing it out. It’s such a delicate art.
Pyrotechnics is the antithesis of fire dancing.
Fire poi: I’d say it’s the most familiar, the most popular. It’s the gateway prop. It’s something that, on a general level without the fire, many, many people through North America, Europe and Australia have really taken to it. It started out as poi, the Hawaiian food derived from taro root. It’s hard, so the women of the Maori people of Polynesia would gather the poi and wrap it with flax leaves. Then they would wrap a cord around it and beat it to tenderize it so they could eat it. A rhythm and song was created from the tenderizing. Artistically, it started out just spinning one, but then they started spinning more and more. The Maori traveled to Hawaii, and my theory is that the fire of the volcanoes inspired them to light the poi on fire. Modern fire poi is Kevlar wicking with a bolt and pin in it, with a chain attached. Then it’s dipped in gas and set on fire. It allows you to engulf yourself in a circle of flame.
Fire Eating: The worst thing you can do is inhale. You smother the flame by exhaling on it gently while the flame is in your mouth. After that, you can light another torch with the fumes in your mouth.

CP: What sort of clothing or cosmetic safety guidelines do fire performers follow?
SP: A lot of us have long hair, and we’re not cutting our hair for it. So, for your head, wet down your hair and body and it’s a good idea to wear some kind of headpiece. My partner usually covers her hair with a bandanna. Most of us hippies don’t wear hairspray, but any chemicals should be avoided. Leather, not only looks cool but is practical. I usually wear light leather pants, and sleeveless shirts. For the most part, it is safe if done correctly.

CP: What is worst injury you’ve sustained or witnessed from fire performing?
SP: Cori, Illumination’s choreographer, she was wearing loose skirt and one of the people next to her caught her skirt on fire. Then, trying smother the flame, they wrapped her skirt but wrapped her up in it. Really they should have torn skirt off. The fire spotter, the person responsible for watching for dangerous situations, wants to swipe the fire off, not smother it. Cori got some second-degree burns from that accident.

CP: Tell me about the Winter Solstice Drum, Dance and Fire Jam at the Cedar Cultural Center on December 21.
SP: Illumination is participating, but the solstice is more about a community event. It’s a very rooted, organic experience. There’s this dichotomy of dark and light. It’s the darkest night of the year, and we bring the light.

CP: It seems like frightening job, do you ever get scared?
SP: No. I feel that fear can lead to hesitation. And I feel that hesitation leads people to stumble and it takes you out of your moment. There is always the slight element of fear, I’m conscious of it. But the fear takes you in. it takes the audience’s attention and it takes the fire dancer’s attention. You have to be more alert and clear minded and focused. The more alert you are, the safer you’ll be and the more beautiful your dance will be.

CP: What do your friends and family think of your profession?
SP: To tell you the truth, they’re not surprised. I’ve had a very interesting life and my family and friends and community have always supported me. My immediate family is kind of like ‘Oh there he goes again.’ But they’re not afraid for me. They’ve come to understand over the years that to know me is to trust in all the crazy things I’ve done in my life. And they see that this is supporting something beyond myself. It’s building and inspiring community such that people will carry on this flame metaphorically. We need a spark in our life. The fire is certainly an element that is 100% creation and 100% inspiration. And it’s so symbolic. When you sit around a fire with your friends or family, you feel grounded. We connect with it. It brings that out of us. And when we dance with it, we bring that grounded energy and you’re manifesting a language.

CP: What is the appeal of playing with fire? It’s dangerous and difficult, why do you put yourself through that?
SP: It really gets people’s attention. You can reach somebody on a deeper level, on a spiritual level, and they might not even see it that way. I believe that the nature of the act of fire dancing is something that will transform other people.

CP: What are you suggestions for anybody who wants to get into fire performing?
SP: Use local resources, for instance, take one of my lessons through community education. If you feel drawn to it, observe it and observe what that person performing is expressing through their fire dance. If you’re intuitive, you can learn from what they’re dancing.

See Poreda and the Illumination Fire Performance Troupe at the Cedar’s Winter Solstice Drum, Dance, and Fire Jam. Those attending are encouraged to bring their own drums and participate.


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