By Rachael Long
As children, we were always told not to play with fire. However, this is exactly what Christopher Newport University fifth year senior Greg Sadler does. About four years ago, Sadler was introduced to the art of fire spinning when he attended a music festival one summer. Through close friends that spun fire, he began to learn the art himself. Fire spinning looks just how it sounds. The spinner twirls the fire in circular motions and creates a trail of flames through the air.
There are many different techniques of fire spinning, but Poi and Staff are the most common. The art of fire spinning originated from the Maori tribes in New Zealand. The Maori word “Poi” means ball on a cord. The tribes originally used Poi as a weapon. A rock would be attached to a flax cord and swung at the enemy. Eventually, Poi became more of a dance that was used to train warriors by teaching them hand/eye coordination.
The form that Sadler uses is Staff. “I built the staff myself. Basically you can buy any fire toys you could imagine, like fire nunchucks. You can buy anything online,” he said. Sadler uses an aluminum rod and Kevlar wicking, which is fabric with fiberglass in it. The fabric soaks up the fuel and once the fuel is gone the fire burns out.
There are many obvious dangers that come with using this highly flammable material. “The one rule with fire spinning is never spin alone because its very dangerous to do it by yourself. The wick that I’m using holds white gas…it can burn not only your clothes, but it can burn your clothes into your skin tissue.” Although fire spinning is dangerous and at times painful, Sadler is proud of his scars. “I burned myself my first time [I spun fire], so probably like three or four times total, but nothing serious or anything,” Sadler said. “I think of them like battle wounds more than anything. They may physically hurt, but it’s more of a mark of pride.”
The reason that Sadler chose Staff instead of Poi is all about fluidity. “You can dance more to Staff. Where as in the Poi you need to have specific technique used for the transitions and specific moves. For me it’s less about the technique, it’s the way I hear music and interpret it to perform.” Although he uses mostly electronic music to dance to, Sadler is open to other genres.
“I’m pretty sure I could find some classical piece of music that I find evokes a really strong emotion in me and use that emotion to express dance in the fire staff,” he said.
While fire spinning sounds like a fun way to spend free time, it is not for everyone. Sophomore Tori Terrill is on CNU’s Silver Storm Dance team has been dancing since she was nine years old. She says that she could not imagine incorporating fire into her routines. “A lot of ‘dance team style,’ jazz, hip hop and
pom is using your arms and jumps that are hard to do while multi-tasking. Some of what I do is gymnastics too. I have to think about what I do before I do it and I think I would be distracted by the fire.”
For those wishing to attempt fire spinning, Sadler has some helpful advice: “Research. The best thing to do, is do your research as much as you can, and before you light anything on fire you have to practice. Don’t do maneuvers that you aren’t comfortable with,” Sadler said. “The best advice is to practice. Keep spinning, I guess, keep trying to learn, that’s with anything.”