When I ask my friend Amy Callahan why she became a fire dancer, her amused look seems to say, “Duh, Cara it’s fi-re!” Aloud she says, “I saw some people doing it in a nightclub and I thought it was way cool. At the time, I was into fitness competitions and bodybuilding. I’m not terribly competitive, but I figured out I really like putting on a show in tiny costumes.” Add fire, and she finds the combo irresistible. “I get a kick out of making the crowd go, ‘Oooh! Ahhh!’”
Amy twirled batons as a girl, and she’s been a performer and athlete most of her life, including: a cheerleader, belly dancer, clown, yoga instructor, and swing dancer. So when she apprenticed with a fire performer she learned fast. Within a few weeks she was spinning flaming torches.
Eight years later, she now performs with a variety of props, such as fiery fans, hot hula hoops, and blazing poi balls – which she says are harder to spin than they look. “As soon as I stop hitting myself in the head with it, then I’ll light it on fire.” She also eats fire, which she says is easier than it looks. “If you bring it in at a 45-degree angle, the flame is going to go straight up, and if your mouth is open the flame’s not actually going to touch your mouth.” It’s not a trick; her mouth really does put out the fire. “The fire goes in, then I close my mouth and it cuts off the oxygen, and the fire goes away.”
Amy says her biggest challenge is creating safe costumes. Not only do they have to be close-fitting so they don’t snag on her props, but also the parts that touch her skin must be made of natural materials that won’t stick to her if they burn. Yet costuming is also her favorite part: “It gives you permission to be someone you don’t normally get to be in your real life.”
In real life she’s a mommie. She laughs as she wonders what people thought when she recently strolled her 15-month-old daughter into “some little slutty shop at the mall” to buy tonight’s mesh shirt.
She still gets nervous when she performs, not about being in front of an audience, but about the possibility of a flaming prop flying into the crowd. “Every time I perform I wonder if this is going to be the time I light everything on fire.” Don’t worry, she always has a safety assistant on hand.
On this night in Denver, she’s performing outdoors in 20-degree weather. I worry she might freeze in her shocking-pink miniskirt, but soon she’s warmed by the glow of swirling flames and the cheering audience. When Amy plays with fire, she exudes a joy as intense as the heat of her props – and the rapt audience is right there with her. After editing the following video, it occurs to me that when Frankenstein’s monster said, “Fire bad,” it was only because he hadn’t met Amy.
If you want to learn more about fire dancing, you can contact Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you live in Denver, and you’d like to hire fire performers for an event, Amy often works with Firemancer. If you don’t live in Denver, you can find a national directory of fire dancers and trainers at Fire-dancing.com.