Interview with a Fire Dancer: Shirley Myers Speaks

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Front owners Joe Paolucci and Tom Hitchcock held one of their renown dinner parties last weekend, and I was honored to be invited.  The couple estimates they spend 19 out of 20 weekends at their Buchanan, Michigan modernist glass and steel weekend retreat, which suits their sons Harry and Joey, ages 11, just fine (they have their own fort).  Set on acres of woods in a former Boy Scout camp, the Dan Wheeler designed home has spectacular architecture, views and decor.  I’d share more photos, but their home will be published in the Winter 2010 issue of CS Interiors, so you’ll be able to see it for yourself when it hits newsstands in January.

When we arrived, Joe was just finishing food prep while Tom looked after the boys and entertained the guests .  Despite a delicious menu (filet, duck and pork along with delicious salads, vegetables and hors d’oeuvres), fascinating conversations, good music and a warm ambiance (the Knoll sofas flanking the wood burning fireplace were particularly comfortable), it’s the evening’s entertainment, it’s half-time number if you will, that I’m writing about now – fire dancing.  With the treeless forest as their only backdrop, the fire dancers might have been really creepy if the kids who attended weren’t giggling with delight and yelling things like “Awesome!”  It was difficult to argue with their enthusiasm for the amazing performance.

Fire dancer Shirley Myers agreed to answer a few questions about her pursuit.

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How did you start dancing with fire?

I started with a group of herb students at a pagan retreat. Eric  learned from a group of dancers from chicago called SPUNN. Adam and Matt saw a group of us playing with fire at a wedding I hosted on my land a few years ago. They made their own equipment and started playing. When I realized what they were doing I had to teach them about safety, but they have gone much farther with the physical mastery of the craft than either Eric or I. They teach us stuff now!

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How often do you perform?  Do you consider it performance?  How often do you practice?

We perform a few times a year at parties but usually it’s just dancers getting together to “play” and learn from each other.  We also go to the full moon jams on the lakefront in Chicago a few times a year.

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What about it appeals to you?

The beauty of the flames, the sound it makes,  the connection to the other dancers. The reaction of people who haven’t seen it is delightful. I love sharing!

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It seems a bit tribal and ritualistic.  Is there a spiritual element?

Any time you work intimately with an element, especially in a way that we are conventionally taught is dangerous, it is a spiritual pursuit. The connection we have with fire becomes  a covenant that we have to be careful to respect. There are rules about safety that are generally known in firetribes all over the country. So when I travel, I can find a tribe in any city and be welcomed.

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Have you ever been burned?

Yes, of course. All fire dancers get burned. After a while you think of it as kisses from the flames. Usually the burns are minimal and serve as a reminder to be careful and most of all, respectful of the fire.

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What have you learned about yourself and the world from this?

I was never a performer of any kind Being in front of people was terrifying at first. I had to get over that and it has made me much more able to take on roles that require being a leader. The culture of fire dancers is strong in the Burningman Community and you can find dancers in most cities in the states. Being part of that culture has been a blessing.

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Thanks Shirley.  To contact Shirley about fire dancing, e-mail her at pyrotherapist at gmail (dot) com.

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Shirley Myers fire dancing.

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What in the sam hell is that green stuff emanating from the amazing outdoor rechargeable lanterns Joe and Tom sell at Front, their downtown Buchanan store.  Click here to read my Front profile.

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Joe and my new friend, the very talented artist Jan Quinn

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A beautiful, old-school white Christmas tree provides the requisite holiday factor every holiday party requires.

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2 Responses to “Interview with a Fire Dancer: Shirley Myers Speaks”

  1. That looks so cool. I’ve never heard of fire dancing, it’s better than fireworks. But really, what is that green stuff?

  2. I think it’s primal to love to move/dance, and adding fire only makes it even more interesting. It adds a layer of danger and excitement you can’t get from swing dancing.