Students learn to spin fire on campus
Student Rachel Berry, 20, and University of Kansas student Shawn Nelson, 19, formed a fire and glow dance duo called Luminescence in 2010, when they were seniors at Blue Valley North High School. They fire dance at events like birthday parties, Halloween parties, and in parks, as well as teaching others to fire dance.
“Fire dancing is a broad term to describe any kind of fire art that you can do,” Nelson said. “It is dancing in the way that you are choreographing it and moving to the music.”
In Berry’s case, she twirls a flaming hula-hoop around her torso.
“It has these metal prongs that are wrapped in Kevlar,” Berry said, “and I light those pieces on fire.”
Both Berry and Nelson began fire dancing in high school. For each of them, it took one exposure to a fire dancing performance to make them decide that it was for them. Fire dancing is a primary element for Luminescence.
“[Fire dancing] is exhilarating,” Nelson said. “It’s that knowledge that you are entertaining the crowd and making people happy. There’s always a thrill about doing things with fire and fire dancing, like a kind of added element of danger.”
“You can’t really see anything outside of the fire itself,” Berry said. “So it’s like being in the middle of a fire and light show that takes up all of your vision. It’s not about what you can see and what you can hear. The fire dancing is really purely physical. It’s all in the control that your body has.”
Both Berry and Nelson are mostly self-taught through YouTube, but they have attended fire safety classes taught by professional fire dancers. They are both involved in teaching others to perform. Nelson is in charge of the KU Performance Club.
“The fire dancing community is very inclusive,” Nelson said. “They’re really, really good people over all. They’ll invite you to things, and give you tips and tricks.”
Earlier this semester, Berry and her friend Steven Brown began meeting up on Tuesdays on campus as a way to hang out and practice. Now, 10 people or more can regularly be seen in the courtyard between the SCI and GEB buildings practicing with fire staffs and hula-hoops.
“We ran into some of the people you see here today,” Brown said. “And it just blossomed from there. As it got warmer, we just decided to form an unofficial club, and we just keep getting more people.”
Berry said that she is planning on talking with college administrators to make an official Performance Club, like Nelson’s club at KU. People are welcome to stop by and join their regular meetings Tuesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. They cannot practice with lit tools, but it is a way to start fire dancing.
“[Fire dancing] does have a very meditative aspect to it,” Berry added. “It’s one of those things where you can completely focus, and at the same time you get a huge adrenaline rush. Being sort of dangerous, it’s also very peaceful.”
Contact Christopher Khan, special to the Ledger, at firstname.lastname@example.org.