As the sun dipped below the horizon on a fall Wednesday evening, several dozen men and women strolled onto the grounds of Culver City Park.
Members of Burn Club, which holds weekly permitted events of fire spinning, sprayed gasoline on to staffs, bolt-chained balls and hula-hoops, walked toward the empty basketball court—paused by an open flame jutting from a jar—lit their instruments and entered the paved area as if on fire.
Burn Club veteran Sydney Brushwood, wearing black leggings and a dark navy tank top, enveloped herself with a hot, glowing blaze coming from her hula-hoop and several fitted rings that resemble the claws of Marvel superhero Wolverine.
In that place at that moment, Brushwood was exactly where she wanted to be.
“You feel free when performing,” she said. You channel the heat from the fire. Fire spinning makes me feel complete.”
Brushwood began obtaining the skills needed for fire spinning at 18. After three years of practicing staff handling, she added the flame.
“When I first started practicing with fire, I wore pajama pants,” Brushwood said, well aware now of her mistake. “You don’t want to wear baggy clothing while doing fire. I was doing a fire staff once, and I put it behind my body and the wick got stuck on the pants and my butt was on fire for a brief second.”
Early on, she had several other incidents, including burns and setting her hair on fire. Gradually, she learned what to wear and how to handle the equipment—and then she joined Burn Club.
Not typically a confident person outside of performing, Brushwood said Burn Club gave her a boost of confidence, and doing what she does makes her feel strong and confident.
“I was the outsider,” Brushwood said. “I would always want to just leave because I felt inadequate. I wasn’t good enough. After a while, after you go repetitively and consistently, people get to know you, and you become like a household name.”
Brushwood became the admin for Burn Club, which means she was responsible to make sure everyone followed the rules, such as where the fire zones are and how to light up in the safe zones.
While the art was new to Brushwood, fire spinning dates back to ancient Polynesian rituals. According to Tahiti Traveler, Pacific Islanders used fire to channel gods, articulate emotion and perform sacrifices.
Tahiti Traveler publication noted, “We took the base of the dancing and gave it a better meaning or took it into another direction. Expressing your feelings of love and passion through the power of fire.”
Professor of Anthropology at Pierce College Ilya Neman gave credence to the history behind fire in culture.
“Polynesian culture is based on giving and requesting from the gods. The fire dance was performed for nature to be fertile and abundant during harvest seasons,” Neman said.
Andy Huang is the club’s current admin. He also founded Burn Club in 2003. His goal was to make a community that can express their fears and love through fire.
“It’s really important to a lot of us,” Huang said. “Fire is about empowerment and sensing the elements. And that’s a primal thing.”
Diana Pahk, Brushwood’s partner and friend, sometimes spins with her. She is a dancer and doesn’t consider herself a fire spinner.
“I feel so free when I dance,” Pahk said. “Any type of dancing to me is freeing the soul.”
Brushwood said she hopes to keep fire spinning for years to come, motivated by the community of friends she has made and the thrill she gets when she performs.
“Fire spinning will always be a part of me. It gave me confidence and self-esteem,” Brushwood said. “Burn Club is a family to me. The heat from the fire while performing has an incredible sensation. You feel free when performing. You feel as if your channeling the Earth’s elements.”
To hear what the Pierce College Community thinks about fire dancing, listen to the KPCRadio.com audio package by staff member, Branden Rodriguez