Go Deeper

Have Dance Add Fire

Posted August 4th, 2009

Come to Clark Park at nightfall, hide behind a bush, and you could witness the meeting of one of Philadelphia’s most mysterious clubs. But crouch down low or your eyebrows might get singed.

Philadelphia Fire Arts, founded in 2002, is an organization that brings together fire twirling enthusiasts from around the area. The club occasionally meets up for “spin jams” in the park and other open spaces around town, where they toy with blazing hoops, clubs, ropes, and more. In this year’s Philly Fringe, Philadelphia Fire Arts will present SimpLaFire, a small group of dancers and fire artists who are ready to bring the heat.

SimpLaFire’s show is made up of vignettes, or mini-shows, each with its own approach. The collage includes ballet, belly dancing, acrobatics, even yoga, all set to an eclectic range of music. And don’t forget the flaming props. Says Liana Cameris, one of the masterminds behind SimpLaFire, “Lauren [Raske, also a member] and I wanted everyone to create a show with a bunch of different talents, so we put our heads together.” She says Fringe audiences will be on the edge of their seats, and I don’t doubt it.

Find out how a person gets involved in a fire-eating club after the jump.

But how, exactly, does one get into this sort of hobby? Cameris has been dancing her whole life–she was on the University of Delaware’s dance team, and is currently learning African and salsa dances. About two years ago, she saw fire performers at a birthday party and was hooked. “I ate fire for the first time that night,” she says. I had to ask twice–did she say ate? “Yep,” she says with a laugh. “And the guy who introduced it to me was called Lucky . . . I thought that was a good sign.”

As soon as she stepped into her first Philly spin jam in a Northern Liberties warehouse, Cameris felt at home. “I couldn’t believe what I saw . . . a whole bunch of people having, from the looks on their faces, ridiculous fun,” she says. “They were playing with objects like hoops . . . someone was spinning fire, someone was eating fire, a DJ was spinning music, [there were] projections on the wall, and fun colored lighting throughout . . . [there were] so many people all
expressing the parts of themselves they enjoy the most, with abandon.”

Cameris says that the craft has helped her to “open up more to self expression, because you have to be really confident in yourself.” Also a yoga instructor, she says that dancing while manipulating fire is surprisingly calming. “I think that’s part of why it came naturally to me, because you have to be in your center. And your mind has to be quiet.”

Aside from teaching, Cameris spent seven years in the corporate world as a national account coordinator for a housing company. But she “jumped ship . . . because my mind and body wanted to do more active things,” and now hopes to devote more time for projects like SimpLaFire.

Audiences fear not–safety is a priority for SimpLaFire and Philadelphia Fire Arts. All performers wet their hair and wear flame-retardant clothes, and as an added precaution someone is poised nearby with a fireproof blanket to snuff out mishaps. “We always spread awareness about fire safety, wherever we perform,” says Cameris. “Like with any sport, accidents happen, but we’re really big on sharing knowledge about safety.”

For the Fringe, the group will perform in the new and immense Piazza at Schmidt’s. Cameris also performed at the venue’s opening night gala in May, and says it’s a great spot to eat, drink, hang out, and watch dancers flirt with danger.

“Don’t be scared for us,” she says. “Just relax and have fun.”

–Mara Miller

Check out this video link of a live performance.

Photo courtesy of the artist.