Fire Dancers, Fire Eaters, and Pyrotechnics, Oh My!
For many of my clients, booking a fire entertainer for the first time can be a bit of a mystery. Some are planning their first big event, without the benefit of professional assistance; others are event planners who simply have not hired fire performers before. If you fall into either of these categories, this article is for you.
In booking fire for your party or corporate event entertainment, you will come across a short list of terms-fire dancers, fire spinners, fire eaters, fire breathers, flame effects, and pyrotechnics-mainly. It is my aim here to clarify these terms so that you can enter the game armed with the information you need to choose a performance that suits your vision of your event.
I will address the first four as a group, since they are all performance oriented. A fire dancer is a performer who dances while manipulating a flaming prop, such as a hula hoop, poi, or a bo staff. This is different from a fire spinner, who may be very skilled at the prop manipulation aspect, but does not dance while spinning their prop. Fire eaters places flaming torches into their mouths to extinguish them. This act is frequently combined with fire fleshing (aka fire contact), in which trails of fire are deposited on the performer's skin, setting it aflame, and fancier vapor tricks (magic!). A fire breather is a performer who takes fuel into their mouth and vaporizes it with a flame in front of his/her face, effectively blowing fireballs. This is by far the most dangerous (to the performer) type of performance, and a client can expect to pay an extra fee to have this included in their act.
The definitions of flame effects and pyrotechnics vary slightly from state to state, because they are legal definitions, and jurisdiction over the control of both lie with the state in question. A flame effect is generally defined as something along the lines of: "The combustion of flammable solids, liquids or gases to produce thermal, physical, visual, or audible phenomena before an audience." (ON, CA-I chose this definition for its clarity and concision) In contrast, pyrotechnics are: "A chemical mixture used to produce visible or audible effects through combustion, deflagration or detonation. Explosions, flashes, smoke, flames, fireworks or other propellant driven effects used in the entertainment industry are referred to as pyrotechnic special effects, theatrical effects, or proximate pyrotechnics. (Employers should be aware of any additional licensing requirements.)" So: colored flames or a free standing, propane powered "pouffer" would usually fall under the category of "flame effects." Fireworks, or special props that operate by propulsion of explosive liquid or gas would be classified as pyrotechnics. An important thing to keep in mind: pyrotechnics will nearly always require a licensed pyrotechnics expert and separate fire permits which may or may not be obtainable at your local fire department.
Now you know the basic lexicon and are one step closer to choosing, and booking the fire show of your dreams!
Fiora Firefly is a San Diego based fire dancer. To book a fire show for your next event, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.