Playing with Fire

A few months ago, I got to see my first big fire dancing performance at a local festival on St. Croix called Jump Up. To say I was transfixed would be an understatement. The next morning, I googled like crazy to figure out if I could talk someone into teaching me how to light up the night like these gorgeous ladies and gents.

This is the backstory and what fire dancing relit in me. It’s a bit long and written for myself, but hopefully someone going through similar issues might find some peace reading it. Your circumstances are not something to be ashamed of.

I’ve always loved to dance and wanted to take lessons as a kid. The problem is that we were poor. Like eating only beans for a week poor. Fortunately, dance teams are something of an institution in small Texas towns (and large ones), so I was able to start drill team in the seventh grade. Most of the girls already had years of dance, but I caught up quickly. I was always flexible so my kicks and splits and precision made up for my lack of professional training.

In the eighth grade, things changed. My fifteen-year-old sister had a son and the father outed our family secret. Yes, we were poor and yes, we spent a lot of time in church. But our stepdad didn’t exactly follow the most moral code at home and he was sent to jail. He and mom got divorced. Freshman year started out a bit crazy. I was a typical self-absorbed teenager wrapped up with trying to be popular (spoiler alert: that part never worked out) and keep up my straight A’s in the midst of turmoil at home.

I was a Jacket Babe that year. All the freshman girls were until we tried out for Stingerettes in the spring. Things got so difficult (and sometimes scary) at home, that I gave up “normal” life to try and live with my missionary dad in Mexico partway through the year. That had its own challenges, lack of running water and electricity being minor ones. Missing dance, and choir, and friends who spoke English were the major ones.

So in the spring, I convinced dad to bring me back so I could try out for Stingerettes. I figured if I made the team, I would move back in with mom. I have no idea how I did it. You see, drill team is a very expensive endeavor that also requires a support system to get to practices, do all the cutesy crafty things, and make it to performances. But, I made it!

I moved back with mom later that summer so I could go to drill team camp at University of North Texas and two-a-days practice before school started in the fall. I bummed rides off of friends endlessly (thanks y’all!) and sometimes got left at the school with only the janitors.

Fortunately, on my fifteenth birthday, I got a job at Pizza Inn. It paid for all the costumes and practice wear that easily went into the thousands of dollars. And it kept me fed. For lunch I could buy a couple of rolls and a diet coke at school for seventy cents, then go to work and have the pizza buffet or make my own personal pizza for two bucks if I remember right.

I loved the practices, the routines we performed, the bright lights and the other girls keeping perfect time together. It was worth all the embarrassment of constantly asking for rides, having to sit out a performance because I couldn’t afford ballet shoes, and the demerits for missing practice because I couldn’t figure out how to get there.

It was too much though, and this might be the first time I’m seeing it. I got a second job that paid more. I started skipping school, mainly because I just wanted to be alone, without all the embarrassment of wearing second hand clothes and bumming rides. It ironically made schoolwork easier and I kept up my straight A’s. Except for drill team. Demerits lowered your grade and I got my first C ever. Actually, that’s kind of funny.

Then my mom decided to get an apartment closer to her job and leave me at home with my sister during the week. I don’t remember the exact procession of events, but I was soon paying “my share” of adult bills.

I quit drill team, and I lied to my friends about why because I was ashamed. Ashamed of being poor, ashamed of not being able to figure out the logistics, and ashamed of my family. No one knew any of it except for a small and amazing group of friends. They were my safe space and loved me for who I was. And they still do!

Which brings me, twenty-five years later, to deciding that fuck it all, I want to dance again. I had tried some of the studios in Dallas, but it was always a solo effort. All the old feelings of not having the right set of circumstances to thrive would hit me and I would quit.

Then I reached out to Kiki, our fire goddess initiator and guide, who I luckily found during my google searching. She started the fire dancing tradition on St. Croix about ten years ago and so many girls and guys have had the opportunity to ignite their passion for it because of her.

I wasn’t able to articulate any of this until after my first public performance last night. We started with the entire group in a beautifully choreographed number, then I got to do a duet with Loni, a longtime fire dancer. It started raining during our dance, but we made it to the end and I loved every second.

Here’s where I can get all cliché and say that it’s never too late to live your passion or dream. And I absolutely am saying that. One of the ladies that I carpool with to practice is 68 years old! Another one just lost over 100 pounds.

To my awesome crew of goddesses, you have my utmost admiration and appreciation. You’ve given me something back that was buried pretty deep.

Kristen, my fellow Texan drill team quitter, you always have the perfect words for us and your rope dart skills still make my jaw drop. Jen, I expect to see you out there with your own rope dart, right after you use your art skills to paint our faces. Courtney, seriously, a queen of dragon staffs, and of overcoming odds, you inspire me to not be afraid to show up exactly as I am. Myritta, I want to be you when I grow up! Claire, you’re the epitome of living your best life, and you do it with grace and beauty. LouLou, damn woman, you’re the very embodiment of divine feminine. Bridget, you don’t even need fire to be lit, your dynamism brings my energy up every time I see you. Barbara, you dance with the same ease as you seem to have with creating healing potions. Annie, the only thing better than your poi skills is your hugs – be my always fire safety.

Finally, Kiki, thank you for reigniting an old love of mine and helping to release decades old shame that I didn’t realize I was holding on to. May our mutual inspiration always remain lit! Also, I promise not to say anything about rain before a performance again. :-D

To Diane, my first dance mom, you ran an epic program. Sorry I didn’t give you the chance to understand what made me miss all that practice.