Review: For the Love of Fire – Rejoicing in Rhythm

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Fire dancing

Last night was not what I expected. A planned night in Cape Town doesn’t always go, well, according to plan. Your 21st birthday party, that first date, and that meeting you just had with the corporate. My plan: Get a glass of red wine at the Mahogany Room – the new, stylish Jazz club in Buitenkant St – and have an audio sensory experience at the Edge of Wrong music festival.  Instead I ended up at a poi class.  And now I have bruises on my legs, a blister on my right index finger and some stiff muscles in my back from a rather unusual workout…

I don’t know if you recall the infamous Wednesday Night Trance parties at what was then called “Roots” in Observatory. They were awesome. Part of the awesomeness was that there were always fire dancers there, flaunting their skills. But even though the trance parties are long gone, the fire dancing community has not ceased to exist. On Wednesday nights budding fire dancers still gather in Observatory to be trained in the fine art of dancing with fire.

Needless to say, there is no fire present in the training classes. Instead “practice poi” are used: basically tennis balls attached to chains (or strings for the beginners like me).  Only once training has reached a certain level is one allowed to get the matches out…

Despite being fire free, a hall filled with about 20 people flinging around balls on chains looks rather unusual, and strangely inviting. Loud dance music blares in the background to get your body into the rhythm.  “Ok, how do I hold these things?” JP, my teacher for the evening, told me with a perfectly straight face that I had better start by hitting myself with the poi a couple times, because “this is going to happen a lot”.  And being an eager student, I did.  So that explains the bruises.

But once I got the basic motor skills in order, the moves flowed surprisingly easily. Being relaxed definitely helps, because when you stiffen up the chance of hitting yourself increases. And so does your chance of getting a stiff back. Within one lesson I learnt some great moves and watched others do “weaves” and “butterflies” and “buzzsaws”.

For the analytically-minded, there’s a satisfying grapple with the physics of the movements. And for the more arty farty people, there’s flow and rhythm to enjoy. After all, as I found, you don’t really need to know what’s going on. I was having fun, and that’s what counts. Where did the blister on my finger come from? Well. Let’s just put that down to a blonde moment.

Maike Gevers

FireTribe poi classes happen every Wednesday night from 7pm – 8pm at at the Observatory Community Centre. View more details.

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