There’s something so alluring about fire: It’s hypnotic and erotic, dangerous and transformative. And playing with it is all of those things, too, as anyone in Santa Barbara’s fire-spinning collective PyroSpin will tell you.
They’re an eclectic band of artist-by-day types, which is not to say the group doesn’t include a suit or two; most of this all-ages group started playing with fire after watching others, going home thinking, “I have to learn how to do that,” and subsequently teaching themselves. “Copperhead” saw fire spinning for the first time in 1999 at Burning Man; when she returned to S.B., she and some flame-friendly friends would gather their poi, the traditional Maori dance props from New Zealand, some wet towels, fire extinguishers, and flashlights and descend upon the beach at night, scuttling around in the dark until they found a place appropriate for lighting up.
“The first time you light up, the sound is the most amazing thing to hear, the flames coming past your head, and being at the center of that, it’s :” Copperhead trailed off, words replaced with a smile.
After seeing some spinning at a party around five years ago, “Paul” was likewise affected. “I went home and immediately made myself some staffs” he recalled. “Spinning for the first time-it’s a defining moment, and I relive that every time I light up. The heat, the noise, the exhilaration, the light : it was really described to me best by a child: It’s warm, there’s light, and it’s moving. There’s movement.” For Paul, who underwent two knee-replacement surgeries 10 years ago, working the heftier “tools” has reaped all kinds of benefits. “I have a lot more vitality,” he said. “This has a tendency of keeping me fit and feeding my soul in different ways, and I will continue to pursue it until my body breaks apart.”
Similarly enthralled, Paul and Copperhead’s practices grew, evolved, and took on lives of their own, as a well-fed flame is known to do. They found other burners, experimented with new tools, and became interested in performance; in fact, that’s how the two met.
“Paul was a neophyte, and I was barking orders,” Copperhead laughed. “I was putting together performers for Burning Man, and put out a general call for fire dancers to come meet me.” They continued spinning together after burning the man, and, two years ago, PyroSpin was born: a performance collective that includes four members and whose shows include such awesome spectacles as fire-hooping, fire-eating, fire-breathing, and couples dance. In addition to festivals, PyroSpin has performed everywhere, from private parties to family reunions.
It may seem incongruous for a group of people who get off on something as subversive as playing with fire to go to the trouble of creating a formal structure (not to mention getting insurance), but look a little deeper and it makes perfect sense. Not least because finding somewhere suitable for spinning is so difficult. “Now we can interface with the fire department, the city, the county, the state; we put safety first and are able to get permits for all sorts of venues,” explained Paul, de-facto leader of this clan of burners, who, it quickly becomes apparent, is actually quite meticulous about keeping PyroSpin in good graces with the powers that be. (In fact, his frequent conversa tions with firefighters led to the discovery of a common bond. “They really, really like fire!” Paul said, a mischievous twinkle in his eye at the irony in where he’s found such kindred spirits.) PyroSpin does it, insurance paperwork and all, because, ultimately, they just want to perform. And when they do, either officially or unofficially-as at the parking lot at Reds coffee house, practicing for a performance at L.A.’s post-Burning Man Decom Festival-watchers inevitably gather, like moths to the proverbial flame.
Actually, the meticulousness with which PyroSpin goes about its business is perfectly in line with one of the first things a newbie spinner learns about his or her newfound hobby: You’d best be careful, and fully in the moment, otherwise you’re sure to get burned. “It demands the utmost respect and a here-and-now awareness,” said Paul. But when you’re spinning, that’s more of a blessing than a curse.
“It drops you into the present moment, that’s the gift of our bodies, isn’t it?” Copperhead said. “When you light up, you tap into the present moment almost instantly, accessing the divine in your own body. And it gives you some pretty immediate feedback, the learning of precise control. : The feedback mechanism there is pretty perfect.”
And while it seems inevitable that there are some bitter burners around-those who resent the formalization of something so fleeting, so at home on the fringe-it really doesn’t faze Copperhead, who’s also working to establish a nonprofit devoted to supporting this medium. “It’s easy to feel that way, but if you want to move something into the realm of art form or dance form or whatever, you have to be open to new people, change. You can’t put it in a time capsule, and if you try, you’ll kill it.” Much like fire itself.
Check out PyroSpin this Saturday, March 15, from 8:30-11 p.m. at Reds, located at 211 Helena Ave. Call 966-5906. BBQ, drinks, and DJ Mouse will be there. Tickets are $12.50 in advance and $15 at the door and are available at pyrospin.com and at Reds.