Other than the obvious reasons — you know, you could burn yourself, some one else, or something else — there are some really practical reasons to care about fire safety. When you’re out there in the fire community, remember the following:
- Prevent law suits! I was recently contacted by a professional artist who is being sued by another fire dancer to whom she lent fuel. At the time, she wasn’t a professional or insured performer whereas the person to whom she lent the fuel, was in fact both insured and a professional artist. It seems absurd to me that a professional artist would be suing someone else who was not a professional for any reason associated with the gig. I mean, you’re playing with fire, right? So personal responsibility is high on your list of things to embody, right? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I did. When I read the email from the artist asking for coaching my heart went out to her — she lent the other artist fuel and the artist burned themselves so now that artist wants to blame the performer who asked me for coaching. If the legal action prevails, I see this as a big step toward trouble for us all in the fire community.
- We set the standard! It is my hope this art form remains one that doesn’t require, encourage or call for any sort of government agency attempting to regulate who can and does play with this tools. For me, given this is my primary spiritual practice, it would be… inconvenient (if not illegal) to say the least. Given that, we need to be careful to be the example we want to see in the world.
- One nasty accident will mess it up for all of us! No matter how safe you are as an individual, how we, as a community, behave will impact how other’s treat us. If we’re acting recklessly, even if we’re only hurting ourselves, we are likely to be less respected than operating from a more conservative space of safety. The reality is one major accident out there that gets on the news and gets wide distribution will impact all of us — how the public sees what we do and how likely we are to get gigs, not to mention the potential desire for officials to regulate us.
What can you do to keep things safe? Here are three suggestions:
- If you have a question about the safety protocol, speak up! If you don’t think someone is doing something safely and you have reasons for your thought process, it makes sense to inquire with the person you observe doing something “unsafe” by your standard. I can recall, back in 2002, being on the playa and finishing up a set burning fire. At the end, this girl walked up to me wearing a highly flammable, white, chiffon pant suit. She wanted to borrow my dip can and use some fuel. As I watched the girl, who was at a questionable level of sobriety, I finally decided to ask, “Do you know that synthetic clothes like that will melt to your skin if it catches on fire?” She looked at me wide eyed. Apparently this was new information for her. I was definitely concerned for her well being and refused to lend her my tools. I cleaned up my dip can and fuel and walked away because I did not want to watch her hurt herself. Since I didn’t think I was going to be able to talk her out of it, the best thing I could do for me is make sure I wasn’t there when she did something problematic. That experience really set the tone for my own understanding of safety over the years. The woman emailed me a few weeks after Burning Man (where I had met her) and thanked me for saying something because she was unaware of the safety information I presented to her that night.
- Which brings me to my next point: Walk away from unsafe situations. I can’t imagine having to live with the consequences of handing someone tools or fuel with which they burn themselves. I therefore am really reticent to empower people to spin fire unless I know they are ready to spin in that moment. When things doing look safe or I don’t vibe with the safety protocol the people are taking, I walk away. When someone wants to borrow my tools and is new to fire and won’t take off their synthetic clothes, there is no reason for me to put myself at risk of liability just so someone else, who didn’t even bother to bring their own gear (if they actually even own any!), can spin fire. If someone really cares, they should have all the tools they need to spin on their own without my help. I have to question the level of commitment of the artist if they are not even prepared with their own tools and if you’re not, I strongly suggest you start. After all — if you’re not there, how can you get sued later for contributing to the situation? 🙂
- Check them out. Before I let anyone use fuel or my depot, and especially before I’m having someone safety for me, I check them out and make sure they really can both use the tools competently as well as being able to extinguishing fire. To that end, I will first let the person spin with my tools (not on fire) for a few minutes and I’ll watch them. Assuming they aren’t whacking themselves lots and look comfortable with the tool, I will then run the second and perhaps more important test and ensure they can extinguish their own freshly lit poi by themselves with duvetyne. Anyone who has been fire dancing for a while knows that the person closest to the fire is the fire dancer. Therefore, the first line of defense for the fire dancer against a fire accident is the artist attempting to put their own fire out. Ensuring the artist can use the duvetyne to put out the fire is one way of gaging their level of comfort with the fire and can help you get a sense of those with whom you are sharing the circle.
Our community is a friendly one and I think this is part of what draws people into the experience. Remember though, lending practice poi that won’t bruise is nothing like lending fire poi and fuel that can cause some real challenges. It’s up to all of us to keep it safe and protect our asses — not just for ourselves, but for the community as a whole.
Subscribe to our newsletter for mailbox delivery of this and other articles written by Temple of Poi founder and visionary, GlitterGirl, who has been a full time flow arts coach and instructor since 2002. If you seek professional guidance associated with creating a safe performance, obtaining a permit in San Francisco or other personalized coaching, contact GlitterGirl directly for a free consultation (GlitterGirl <that pretty little at symbol> TempleOfPoi <daaaaaaaught> com).