Baby, Light My Fire
Flames are whipping around your head and body in a flash of light and heat while the speakers are thumping out a rhythmic bass groove. A disco inferno? Not exactly—you’re at fire dancing boot camp, and you’re learning the ancient art of poi, having a blast and getting one of the best workouts of your life. Originally practiced by the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand, poi—which translates as “ball”—was used to enhance strength and flexibility by men and women alike. The weighted poi ball is tethered to a rope and swung in a coordinated rhythm to work out arm, shoulder, and back muscles. And once you’ve mastered the initial steps, the poi is set aflame and suddenly you’re caught up in a brilliant dance with fire.
Novices are encouraged to take a few poi classes before attempting fire poi. (Classes are reasonably priced at around $20 per class.) In addition to poi, fire staffs, hoops, and fans can be incorporated, depending on the class level and instructor. Boot camps and lessons are offered in a number of major cities, but California has earned its reputation as a hotbed of fire dancing, and well-regarded schools such as Fire Groove in Los Angeles (www.firegroove.com), Fire Arts Collective in Oakland, and San Francisco’s Temple of Poi (www.templeofpoi.com) offer a series of boot camps, online classes, DVDs, performances, private lessons, and respected instructors with years of experience and safety training.
There are several levels of classes available, often with discounts for multi-class series.
Fire dancing has, in just a few years, gone from being a cult-like practice seen at alternative art and music festivals like Burning Man (www.burningman.com; see ) to gaining more mainstream interest. Fire dancing performers are now in demand at everything from bachelor parties to corporate retreats. And long-time practitioners have embraced fire dancing’s community spirit, in some cases attesting to the spiritual dimension of the art form. But newcomers shouldn’t be put off; beginners swear it’s a great workout and probably the most fun you will ever have playing with fire. —ML