Dancing with fire. A performance in which the performers spin, juggle, throw or otherwise manipulate the equipment used, which is usually either a staff or a pair of poi, with a wick soaked in a flammable liquid burning on the end(s).
Fire-dancing equipment generally consists of one of the following:
  • Staff: a stick about 1.7m long, with wicks at either end. The grip is in the centre of the staff. Performance consists of spinning staff in various planes about the body, passing from hand to hand, both in fronat of and behind the body.
  • Poi: wire or chain, about 0.6-0.8m long, with wick at one end and a loop at the other to hold on to. Performance consists of a pair, spun in intricate patterns about the body. One point I'd like to make here is that New Zealanders do the best poi I have ever witnessed, their usage is a part of our indigenous culture and the performances I have seen by people from other countries using poi have been uninspired, generally consisting of a very limited number of patterns.
  • Twin staff: my favourite. Two short staves, about 0.8m in length each, with wicks at either end and grips in the middle. Performance is like a cross between poi and staff, but the patterns are more intricate and move faster, as the circles described by the motion are smaller and are traced at twice the frame rate, so to speak.
Other variants have been observed, like the one described here, but the above are the most common (although twin staff is quite rare - I only know of three aside from myself who do this).
The flammables used are:
  • Kerosine/kerosene: a petrochemical, burns with a smoky flame and smells, but not too unpleasantly. It is vaguely toxic and so I do not recommend fire-breathing using this. Standard fare for fire-dancers, it costs about $1 (NZ) a litre.
  • Pegasol: performance-quality fuel. Kerosene with all the nasties removed. Non-toxic, but don't drink it. Burns with a clean, odourless flame, does not diminish in brightness as it runs out (kerosene does).
  • Petrol: is not used. I include it here only because I tried it last night and want to warn everyone thinking about taking up fire-dancing do not try this.
The fascination of fire-dancing comes from a number of factors. What these are will obviously vary from person to person, indeed there are probably a few people who don't like it at all. I find many things enjoyable about both watching and performing fire-dancing, but the best things about it are the grace and the rhythm. A good fire-dancer knows many patterns to spin their tools in, and has practiced these until the motions are fluid and relaxed, one pattern moving into another without the audience really understanding how. The burning fuel makes a fantastic noise as you spin, like it's ripping through the air, and the doppler shifts operating on it make the performance have not only a visual, but also an audible rhythm.

Fire-dancing is often accompanied by tribal-style drums or other instruments, like the didjeridu. It is also often accompanied by psychoactives, particularly marijuana or LSD because of the effect these substances have on the perception of colour, sound, rhythm, and space, all essential components to the act of fire-dancing.

Also called fire spinning, fire twirling, or poi, this is the art of dancing while spinning, twirling, waving or otherwise moving flaming objects around the body. It's not clear when the practice first started. Given humans' preoccupation with fire, it may have arisen independently in many different places. One place of origin for many of the moves used in fire spinning (in which two fuel-soaked wicks are swung on the end of chains while aflame) is with the Maori people on New Zealand. Poi dancing is a traditional Maori dance, done WITHOUT fire, in which 2 balls on ropes are swung around the body and beaten on the hands.

One can also light the ends of an appropriately-prepared baton or staff, and use standard baton-twirling techniques. Another form of fire dancing uses "fire fingers", which are small (6 to 8 inches long) wire extensions that fit on the ends of a finger, with bits of fuel-soaked wicking at the tips that can be lit.

All forms of fire dancing can be extremely enthralling, beautiful and even erotic to watch, depending on the performer. Put together a beautiful dancer and the mystery of fire, with all its shadows and highlights and the element of danger it imparts, and you have a very powerful combination.

Fire dancing, particularly fire spinning, is also a very rewarding activity. When fire is handled properly and shown the proper respect, the risk of getting hurt (though very real) is slight, and the thrill is large. The sound of the fire whizzing past your ears is incredible.

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