This is an extraordinary skill!
Magical dancing combined with a very dangerous manipulation of fire makes everyone almost freeze in front of the stage at the East’s club night out. Just a minute ago, it was impossible to imagine that an audience, hyped up by a DJ into an excitedly jumping mass, could ever stop; but they did.
They did stop, because they were hypnotized by an energetic performer in authentic costume and intricately painted face. He athletically moved around the stage to a fast rhythm with fire flying all around him. The crowd took a big breath and reach for their cameras. “Oh, wow!”-I could not really hear it because the music was too loud, but I could see the expressions; and I felt the same. Next, Justice Draconis was sliding fire along his already half naked body and everyone was fascinated by the whole performance. I was in the front, glued to the stage like everyone else. Oh, my God! I cannot vouch for the crowd, but unexpectedly for me, Justice was placing fire into his mouth and the crowd was whistling, screaming and applauding. It looked like he was ‘eating fire’.
Later, talking to Justice I confirmed that I was right. This is traditionally called Fire eating, since a long time ago it was common in India to show spiritual attainment during street performances. This is an extraordinary skill! Quite interestingly, the secret of Fire eating is passed from a master to the specially chosen student, and only they really know all the secret techniques. If you ask them, you will receive only two common answers of how they do it: “…by tolerating pain…” or “…carefully”. Hmm, it is not much to dwell upon but it looks spectacular.
However, I was very keen to dwell upon everything I could get for my following interview with Justice Draconis. Before I ‘torture’ him with my set of questions I decide to see his next two different public appearances. One during the People First Networking event at The Ally Cat on Chevron Island and one more at Justin’s Park on Berleigh Head Beach. Oh, Goody! I hope it’s less loud than at the East night club.
In the mean time, let me brief you on some interesting facts about dancing with fire. Dancing with fire is a very dangerous business and not surprisingly, to perform with fire in public, one must take safety issues very seriously. There are a massive number of rules and guidelines one has to follow: fuel quality and handling; equipment maintenance and checking; specific place identification and space adjustment between public and performer; special area for fuel dipping; understanding wind directions; what is the safest fiber for your stage costume (by the way, it is natural cotton); the performer has to carry a first aid kit to every performance and must also know how to handle an accident if one occurs, and of course one must never perform under influence of drug or alcohol.
Can you imagine? It is so complicated, and yet since 19 century, the number of skilled performers is growing quite rapidly all around the World. One of the most famous and prominent festivals in the world for dancers with fire (by the way you can also call it: fire manipulation, fire spinning, fire performance or fire twirling) is the Burning Man festival in Nevada, USA. This festival started only 25 year ago with 20 participants and free entry. Last year, it had 51,454 participants and the cost of the tickets ranged from $210 to $360 US. Can you see what I am talking about? How massive and how popular is this becoming?
So, what about Australia? Is dancing with fire gaining popularity Downunder? Apparently, it has. Since 1996 we have the Pyrotechnique Fire Dance Theatre based in Cairns. Currently, we have many troupes and countless groups, as well as many single performers, based all around Australia, including the Gold Coast. I have seen two performers before at the front of my house; only because they are friends of my daughter. Certainly none of them performed Fire eating, otherwise I would remember but Justice Draconis does it exceptionally well and I am looking forward to seeing it again today, at The Ally Cat on Chevron Island.
However, what happened on Sunday at Berleigh Head in Justin’s Park I am ready to share with you right away.
I arrived early and spent some time at Burleigh Heads Hotel on that round terrace that you see in the middle picture, with a cup of coffee. Full ahead socializing was all around me. Good service, live music and a fantastic location. This is the best place to wait till dusk I wrote in my note book. I was waiting for every Sunday’s events in Justin’s park to start. The signal came loud and clear with an increasing drumming rhythm, and from my position on the round terrace I was able to see the appearance of the first fire twirlers in the near distance. As I love the sound of drums, I was tempted to move inside a big circle that many different drummers formed informally around the happy dancers, but I didn’t have time, Justice Draconis and his friend Sergiy Ledovskyh were on their way to meet me in few minutes. In the meantime I did manage to talk to one of the drummers, Jessica.
“Jessica, what is this all about?”
“Every single Sunday afternoon for the last eight a years, a drummers’ community gathers here in Justin’s Park to play together whatever they feel like. They all play on different drums: African drums, South-American drums and so on, but what makes it unique is their improvisation and integration into one unified performance. It is a nice place for anybody to come and enjoy the music and the relaxing atmosphere; releasing stress, and generally having a nice time.
As for myself, I am playing Djembes African drums which I picked up one day and fell in love with drumming. Since then, I have been drumming for about six years. I love it. It’s almost like meditation for me; a very therapeutic stress release. It doesn’t matter what level you are at because we all have the ability to hear and reproduce a rhythm from basic, in the beginning, to eventually advanced. I am happy to teach somebody who might interested. I am down here every Sunday and anybody is welcome to come up to me and ask.”
“Jessica, do you have any idea of who are the dancers inside this circle?”
“Anyone who comes here: from first time local comers and tourists to a regular audience, including professional local dancers are dancing if they wish. I personally enjoy watching them when I play or take a break. They dance whatever style they are comfortable with, from belly dancing to modern styles; it doesn’t matter because it’s all about relaxation.”
I said thank you and goodbye to Jessica and rushed to the next circle just fifty meters away where Justice Draconis was already unpacking his equipment.
To not interfere with his precise routine I just followed him with my recorder. He talked and I just listened (and recorded).
“Generally, since November 2010, I come here every Sunday, but if the weather is wet and windy I do not come out and play. Today is too windy and I only came because we had an arrangement with you. You can see for yourself that there are only about 200 people around today, but when the weather is good, thousands of people, or even more, are here watching the fire twirlers in Justin’s Park.
Here, as a Dancer and Fire spinner, I come to perfect my props manipulation and dancing movements with fire. In comparison with fire twirlers I am not just manipulating and transforming fire, but complementing it with professional dancing. Fire twirling separately and professional dancing separately are both pleasant to watch, but when you integrate the two into one it becomes an artistic show and that is exactly what I do.
I am constantly evolving by learning new techniques and accruing new skills in manipulating new equipment. For the past few years I deliberately attended many different workshops, classes and dance studious in different disciplines to make my single shows unique and very diverse. I am constantly in the process of perfecting and creating a new appearance on stage, and I will tell you more during our following interview next week. Okay?”
I didn’t ask any questions after that, but because my recorder was still on I captured extra information from Justice while he was continuing his show and tell for me.
Here is what I collected together and later confirmed his permission to publish.
“When I come here, to Justin’s Park mostly for training I often exercise on this grass next to the beginners. As always, I pay a lot of attention to safety precautions, because as a professional I understand how important it is. Unfortunately, the beginners pay less attention and are often not aware of many safety rules. As I have found out, in Australia, compared to Minneapolis where I lived and performed before I moved to the Gold Coast – safety rules for dancing with fire are less respected. I have shared my concern with many of them, showing and explaining the issues, and they agreed that it is important to know and to follow the rules; but unfortunately, not everyone takes it seriously.
“What is good about coming here and watching us practicing is that each of us has different skill levels and a different background of dancing, athletic or even marshal art techniques. See that guy, with the painted clown face? His name is Shaun Mcconville and his background is martial arts and fire twirling. His technical aptitude is more as a fighting style, and the way he spins fire is different to anyone else’s here, though he is manipulating Stuff as many others. Incorporating both skills based on his background training makes his fire spinning very unique.”
“When I come here I am relaxing mentally because on stage I am working and concentrating on entertaining others…Oops! We just have been sprayed by kerosene. Gosh, it stinks! I really do not like this fuel. The only reason many twirlers are using it is because it’s cheap and safe to twirl with, particularly for the beginners and here is not a stage, rather a totally open place. However, I never use it, even here. The fuel I use, which is naphtha or so called ‘white gas’, is regarded more of a hazard compared to kerosene, but I am very experienced and I strictly follow all safety precautions which are imbedded in my head. In Minneapolis we had a safety committee, but here safety is more like an afterthought; but for me safety is a normal routine. Though this fuel is more expansive, I use a special technique to conserve it. What I do is I use a plastic sandwich bag with zipper. After dipping my prop in my fuel, I put it into a bag and zip it up. Then I spin off my prop and I end up with a lot of fuel at the bottom of that zipped bag. As a result it is not on the ground or spraying grass and people around, but collected and ready to be put back into a container and reused again. That way I am saving the environment as well as fuel and therefore money. This is so fast and easy to do that I don’t understand why others are skipping this very practical and valuable method.”
He was telling me that while preparing a couple of Poi for going onto the field and showing his combined Poi spinning with dancing prowess. On my way home I felt more confident about following interview with Justice Draconis. Now I knew where to dig deeper.
On the way home I was playing back Justice’s last Poi spinning which I really enjoyed. Many simple and complicated movements in parallel or opposite directions, with abrupt halts followed by drops down, were smooth and controlled. At the same time, his body choreography with combined slow or fast steps; back and forward or from side to side, looked like projections of some separate and exotic figures, and appeared to me as a quickly moving slide show. Overall it was dynamic, magical, captivating and almost hypnotic, and definitely daring because it is very dangerous.
My warmest regards,
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