Where the desire to play with fire mingles with the desire to create something beautiful spring the fire-spinners and hoopers of the world. The park that was once “the pit,” where a fire had destroyed a building years ago, again was host to whirling flames, courtesy of the newly formed performance group, “Moon Spinners.”
The irony was not lost on Temple Joanna, one of the group’s founders, who chose the spot mostly for its central location and wide open space.
“I chose this one because it’s in the center of town. It’s First Friday, there’s art shows, this is where everyone’s going to be for Folk Fest, and (Sealaska) Heritage was amazing for letting us use this space. It’s kinda cool because this place was a burned down building and why not here.” Temple Joanna said.
Moon Spinners plan to perform during this week’s Folk Festival and will likely find other occasions to perform when darkness drapes over Juneau.
Though many passers-by may have been surprised to come across the fire spinning performance on the just-darkening Friday evening, a lot of planning had gone into setting up the gig. Temple Joanna took it upon herself to contact the police and fire departments and obtain permits and insurance for use of the space.
One phrase that might be heard tossed around frequently is, “Safety first.”
“Half the time nobody knew what I was talking about when I said, “We’re street performers and we want to play with fire.”” Temple Joanna said, holding a fire permit with the Capital City Fire and Rescue logo on the top.
Though not the first fiery performance in the area, fire spinning (poi) and hooping have popped up at events in the past, just not as a planned public performance, Temple Joanna joined with a few other women to form what is likely Juneau’s first organized fire performance troupe.
Temple Joanna is joined by Amah Curry, who introduced her to the art, and Kartikasari Klasresta, a fellow hooping enthusiast, in the group. There is, so far, one other regular member and one other interested performer.
Curry started hooping a couple years ago and graduated to the flaming version only a few months ago.
“I’ve always loved playing with fire,” Curry said, “and this is a way to do that. Yeah, just another way of playing with fire.”
“A couple years ago, my friend Susan and I would (hoop) … We’d do it after the kids would go to bed. We’d stay up and just hoop around in her living room and we got to be really good at it. That’s when I realized I could actually hoop with fire — that I had the skill set to sort of branch off from just normal hooping.
These dedicated hoopers carry their hoops with them wherever they go. Curry and Temple Joanna both detailed having hoops and kerosene and lighters or torches in their car, and the soot that smudges cars and walls and doorways from transporting the hoops and materials.
“My car right now looks like a huge atomic bomb because it’s full of kerosene and torches and wicks. It’s funny how dangerous my car looks right now.” Temple Joanna said.
At the start of the event, Temple Joanna and Curry could be seen setting out hoops of different sizes and different types. Regular hoops, big hoops, small hoops, LED lit hoops and hoops with wicks screwed in at intervals. Mason jars full of clear kerosene were set on the ground and the wicks (six on an average sized hoop, four on a small hoop) were dipped in the kerosene until saturated.
A crowd had started to gather, some people had known about the event in advance, others were likely intrigued by the young women in body-hugging clothing passing around hoops and a blowtorch.
Temple Joanna, Curry and Klasresta removed any bulky or loose fitting clothing, and anything particularly flammable. While they may have looked chilly in the twilit evening, certainly the flaming hoops, the constant movement and the adrenaline rush kept the cold at bay.
Temple Joanna and Curry began the performance with a brief synchronized set. The women hugged each other’s middles with one arm each, twirling their flaming hoops over heads and around.
Temple Joanna likens being surrounded by the roaring flames as like being in an inferno, but all the women seem confident that they won’t be injured.
“I’ve never burnt myself,” Curry said, “I have hit myself with the wick while it was on fire, but the way it’s moving, it’s never in one spot long enough to burn. I do have one shirt that has a couple soot marks, but probably not burn marks. And I’ve burnt a little of my hair, I just could tell by a little bit of smell, but it was nothing big or that lasted very long.”
The women boast quick reflexes but have also taken precautions, with hair tied back in bandanas or held in place in buns.
Temple Joanna suggested Klasresta would be the star of the evening and, while each woman captivated the audience, Klasresta donned a dramatic mask and moved with definite confidence and grace.
As the night sky began to darken, the women could be seen spinning the flaming hoops above their heads or around their wrists. At one point, Klasresta was lying on her back with the hoop spinning around one delicate foot.
The flames generally last for about five minutes of spinning, at which point they can be dipped in kerosene again and relit.
Part of the allure of fire hooping is the beauty of it, part is the apparent danger.
“It seems pretty safe to me,” Curry said, “maybe don’t quote me on that.”
“It’s a definite risk, but it’s so worth it. It’s so out of the box.” Temple Joanna said.
Before they began, Temple Joann said the performance was dedicated to the late Sakara (Sky) Dunlap, “She died a year ago last week. We wanted to do this performance dedicated to her because she was such a light in all our lives, and inspiration, so this is for her. And her family.”
In the afterglow of the Moon Spinners’ first performance, Temple Joanna said, “I’m so proud of my girls.”
Juneau can look forward to an encore performance during Folk Fest at 9 p.m. Saturday at the same location, 113 Seward Street. This performance should also include Crystal Bourland and Ludmile Diaz, who juggles with fire.
Temple Joanna will volunteer with the CARES credit recover program teaching hooping (without fire). To learn more about Moon Spinners, contact Temple Joanna at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Contact Neighbors editor Melissa Griffiths at 523 2272 or at email@example.com.