FemPyre dances with fire.
In April, the North Texas-based all-female fire performing troupe started hosting Fire Beats, a fire gathering on the first Thursday night of the month at Shipping and Receiving. This open jam for fire performers is the only event of its kind in Fort Worth and also features ecstatic dance movement components like a meditative drum circle and improvisational belly dancing.
“North Texas is teeming with really talented belly dancers,” says Jo England, a founding member of FemPyre. “We couldn’t not include them in this.”
Indeed, the two other founders, Tina Lee Arons and Brianna Aspara, are belly dancers. After attending fire jams in Dallas, they wanted to have a similar event in Fort Worth.
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“There’s a bunch of fire performers in the area,” England says. “Super talented people.”
And they wanted the event to be female-focused.
“As you can expect with any art form that has an element of danger, it easily becomes dominated by men,” England says. “It’s hard for women to break-in to leadership roles in male-dominated fields. So we just decided to do our own thing.”
Founded in November, FemPyre has been doing public and private performances, stage shows, and music festival performances.
“We have quickly gotten to know a larger audience of people,” England says.
And with Fire Beats, they are getting the greater community involved. The monthly event is quickly becoming a place for amateur fire performers to practice spinning fiery props in an outdoor space known as a burn circle.
Fire performance is more than a novelty and has existed for centuries—dating at least as far back as the Ancient Aztecs. But in recent years it has become more accessible through social media and as an extension of the popular flow arts movement dedicated to physical art forms including prop dancing.
“A lot of people have that same pathway,” England says. “They don’t just jump directly into fire face-first. They start with a prop, like a staff or a hula hoop. Once they get confident with a prop they add fire to it. We want to help empower more women to safely learn about fire performance.”
If you want to spin fire at Fire Beats, FemPyre makes it easy to join the movement.
“You have to be sober and demonstrate that you are proficient with the prop when it’s not on fire,” England says. “This is a good place to do your ‘virgin burn,’ which is what we call the first time someone spins a prop on fire.”
“We try to bring together several different types of performance art to a wide variety of people in a family-friendly environment,” Aron says. “We want to reach out to more women in our fire performance community and help empower them to participate in fire arts. I learned some of these things from YouTube videos, Googling, and experimentation in my backyard. But some people need a mentor and a place to get information in-person. We want to be a support group and a safe space. ”
FemPyre establishes an outdoor perimeter to keep the audience safe and they always have people safety watching, ready to quickly extinguish props. Arons, a high school teacher, became a state licensed flame effects operator in order to secure the necessary permits for fire shows.
“We wanted to be able to do gigs that were not at someone’s house,” Arons says, with a chuckle. She is currently taking at least a year off from her teaching career to focus on being a fire performer. After belly dancing for years, Arons became obsessed with fire dancing a couple years ago after seeing fire performers at a Renaissance Festival.
“It’s a big production and there is something about it that is so exciting,” Arons says. “I had to do it. It’s exhilarating and challenging. It’s dangerous, but in a way that’s controlled. There’s something about the idea of fire and rebirth. I needed something in my life to push through what felt like a slump.”
“It’s really us being playful with whatever props are calling to us,” she continues.
These props with wicks include fire poi, hula hoops, staffs, fans, and swords. The movements are influenced by interpretive dance.
“I’m enjoying music, interpreting the energy of the crowd, and expressing it with my body. We’re creating a space where everyone can come together and have an ecstatic experience and lose themselves in the movement.”
“We’re playing with fire, so of course there is a chance of injury,” England says. “But we’ve never been seriously burned because we focus so heavily on safety. We’re all moms, so we have to think of our everyday livelihood first. Spinning fire is a meditative art for me.”
Fort Worth Fire Beats
Shipping and Receiving, 201 S Calhoun St., Fort Worth
Thursday, July 5, 7:00 pm, $5