South African Fire Dancers
Quotes and Bookings in South Africa, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban
What are Fire
Dancers? Information and definitions via
Fire dancing (also known as "fire twirling," "fire
spinning," "fire performance," or "fire
manipulation") is a group of performance arts or
disciplines that involve manipulation of objects on
fire. Typically these objects have one or more
bundles of wicking, which are soaked in fuel and
Some of these disciplines are related to juggling or
baton twirling (both forms of object manipulation),
and there is also an affinity between fire dancing
and rhythmic gymnastics. Fire dancing is often
performed to music. Fire dancing has been a
traditional part of cultures from around the world,
and modern fire performance often includes visual
and stylistic elements from many traditions.
Fire dancing is a very dangerous performance art,
and fire safety precautions should always be taken.
Metal parts on fire tools have a high heat transfer
coefficient and may burn on contact; the wick has a
lower coefficient and is less likely to cause burns
directly, but can spray or spread fuel. Costumes
from non-flammable or flame retardant materials,
such as leather or treated cotton, are preferred
when employing fire; synthetic materials tend to
melt when burned, resulting in severe burns to the
Fire tools require a safety regime to address the
risks of setting fire to the user, bystanders, or
the surroundings. Typical elements of such a regimen
include a sober, rested, and alert spotter who has
access to an ABC Dry Chemical fire extinguisher for
putting out material and fuel fires (water-based
extinguishers may spread oil fires), a damp towel or
woolen/duvetyne fire retardant blanket (for
extinguishing burning clothes and fire toys), a
bucket of water (for the eventuality of
out-of-control fires), and plastic wrap (for
protecting burns that require hospitalisation).
Typically, a metal container (located away from the
performance area) that can quickly be sealed (so as
to be airtight) is used as a fuel dump; with the lid
in place, fuel fires may be extinguished.
During the period from the mid-1990s to the early
2000s, fire dancing grew from a relatively obscure
and marginalized native tradition, and a talent and
skill of the baton twirler or circus artist, to a
widespread and almost commonplace occurrence at
raves, rock concerts, night clubs, beach parties,
camping festivals, cabarets and hotel shows. Many
attribute the discipline's rapid growth in
popularity to the Burning Man festival, where many
thousands were exposed to fire dancing who had never
seen or heard of it before. Another powerful force
was the rise of internet chat and bulletin board
cultures, which allowed aspiring dancers in isolated
areas to communicate with the then-limited pool of
skilled performers far outside of their geographic
As the number of fire dancers multiplied
exponentially, individual performers and troupes
began to experiment with new equipment concepts
(i.e., beyond the traditional staff, fireknives and
poi) and with hybrid performance art concepts. The
following is an incomplete list of such show
varieties, whose categories are general and tend to
* Traditional fire shows: Traditional shows
often incorporate Polynesian costuming and other
cultural elements. Many conform to the guidelines or
are inspired by the annual World Fireknife
Competition and Samoa Festival.
* Standard modern shows: These usually include
performers in tight and perhaps even risqué costumes
with elaborate face paint, performing with poi,
staffs, and other standard implements. Such shows
often include fire breathing techniques as well.
Most people think of this type of performance when
they think of fire dancing.
* Fire theatre: Such shows are theatrical shows
which include fire and fire performance as elements
of staged dramatic presentations. Often the fire
performance is a small element of the larger show.
These shows tend to use more elaborate props and
costuming and focus less on technical skill.
* Fire fetish show: Such shows are recognizable
by more overt sexuality in the performance and often
extremely risqué costuming, nudity, and implied or
actual sexual contact between performers, and are
often seen as a fusion between exotic dancing or
burlesque with fire dancing. Thus, fire fetish
refers to a particular style of performance, and not
a sexual fetish on the part of the performer, as
* Erotic fire show: Such shows may be seen as
simply a normal improvised fire dance but with
emphasis on sexually arousing body gyrations,
seductive facial expressions, an eroticised musical
selection (such as R&B or downtempo music), and
minimal clothing of the performer, thus promoting
sexual arousal or desire in addition to the expected
visual entertainment for an audience. Unlike a fire
fetish show, this performance is generally more
low-key, slower in tempo, and may be performed by a
solo dancer in front of a small and select audience,
often a spouse or romantic partner. This performance
is considered to be an active and visually exciting
form of ritual foreplay. However this type of show
is usually only enticing to a select audience and is
generally unpopular by the mainstream community.
* Ritual fire show: Such shows are usually a
fusion of pagan or occult ceremony with fire and
fire performance. They focus less on technical
skill, and more on the use of the fire dancer to
highlight the ritual.
* Fire and belly dance: Such shows are a fusion
of Middle Eastern belly dancing (raqs sharqi) and
combine elements of fire dancing and belly dancing.
Often the dancers use palm torches and fire swords
made to resemble scimitars.
* Fire comedy jugglers combine many of the
skills of other fire performers but also include
juggling, which is rarer in other spinners. The
juggler also includes comedy to round out their
routines, like lighting their behinds on fire.
Other performance variations continue to emerge as
fire dancing becomes more widespread and
* Cirque Du Soleil has for the first time
incorporated contemporary fire dance techniques in
its Zaia production in Macau. Previous Cirque Du
Soleil shows 'Alegria' and 'O' relied on the skills
of traditional fire knife artists for fire
performances. Recognition of contemporary fire dance
and modern prop techniques has previously been very
limited in the professional circus community. Dan
Miethke is the current fire coach and lead fire
artist in Zaia.
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