Getting taste for fire put spin into life

By day, Lauren Dance is a bartender and waitress, but at night she plays with fire, literally.

The 20-year-old is a fire spinner.

She has been tossing, twirling, tossing, jumping and spinning with flaming poi, wands, and ropes since November last year.

It has become more than a hobby for her already, as she has started up a fledgling business and feels she has discovered a new way of life.

Also, there is plenty to look forward to, for example, performing later this month as a member of the University of Otago's Dunedin Fire and Circus Club at the Midwinter Carnival, practising for more events and training new fire spinners.

Members of the club are all busy at this time of year performing at various festivals and events, including the recent Fire and Steam Winter Festival in Oamaru.

Fire spinning is a facet of "flow arts", which can be characterised by movement of the body in a flowing manner, as can be seen, for example, in yoga and martial arts.

Lauren Dance ‘‘eats’’ fire. PHOTOS: PETER MCINTOSH
Lauren Dance ‘‘eats’’ fire. PHOTOS: PETER MCINTOSH

Several different devices or toys are used in fire spinning, the most popular are poi and staff, but flaming fans, hoops, rope darts, puppy hammers, juggling pins and whips can also be used. Yes, sometimes there are flaming whips.

Ms Dance, originally from Tauranga, moved to Dunedin in 2015 to study veterinary nursing and events and tourism management at Otago Polytechnic.

Having finished that, she now works during the day at the Victoria Hotel in Dunedin and on her fire spinning and related business in the evenings.

She said she played around with poi in her childhood, and always liked to dance.

When she was introduced to the fire and circus club in November last year, she knew she would never be the same.

"The day I started, I fell in love."

Dunedin fire spinners (from left) Xanthe Naylor (25), Lauren Dance (20), Josh Smith (27) and...
Dunedin fire spinners (from left) Xanthe Naylor (25), Lauren Dance (20), Josh Smith (27) and Tania Whetu (28) perform on the Union lawn at the University of Otago. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
She has become addicted and reckons she would struggle to go two weeks without "burning".

She particularly enjoys winter because the nights are long and she can "burn" as soon as it gets dark enough.

Playing with fire makes her feel connected, she said.

"I feel concentrated and focused. Fire and flow consumes my life in the most positive ways possible."

She describes spinning fire as dancing alongside the flames instead of against them, and said her first time trying it was burned into her memory.

"I was utterly mesmerised by the flame and the sense of connection I had with what I was doing."

She travelled alongside the Wandering Circus around New Zealand in November 2018, stopping where it stopped and offering workshops to youth programmes and schools, flow arts communities, and the general public. She then co-founded the performance and event management company Flow State Productions, and recently became a trustee for the Community Arts and Circus Trust New Zealand.

Flow arts could be meditative and allowed the mind to enter into a "flow state", a mental state in which a person performs an activity immersed in a feeling of energised focus.

For safety, there was always a fire safety guard watching the performers closely with both a bucket of water and fireproof blankets on hand.

Spinners use a fire manipulation fuel commonly called Pegasol or Solvent 3440 Special, which was safer than kerosine. It burned at a lower temperature and could be used on skin or in the mouth, but should not be swallowed.

The Dunedin Fire and Circus Club had 80 members, making it the largest of the 11 groups around the country.

It ran multiple meetings during the week, both organised and impromptu, and was fundraising for an Australian tour in October.

Fire spinning was her career now, Ms Dance said.

"Watching how fire and circus influenced [her friends'] lives made me realise that it's exactly what I want to do."

-By Fisi-Belle Carrasco-Rex

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