When most people see fire performance for the first time. It provides mystery and intrigue. Fire performance usually fits into a few different categories.
Dancing: From belly dancing to hip-hop, fire is often added to dance routines because it's organic nature complements the body rhythms. This can be seen in traditional Polynesian dance, exotic dancing and music videos to name a few.
Theatrics: Nothing spices up the drama like adding an element of fire. The use of fire can portray grace, strength, danger, or anything else your imagination can come up with.
Tech: this is probably the fastest growing area of fire performance. This is an offshoot from juggling, and includes juggling itself. Performers strive to master technical competency with their chosen fire tools. Much of the tech finds its way into theatrical and dance performances.
Fire is usually added to a performance for a tribal, spiritual or ritualistic feel. People have been dancing with fire for thousands of years, but modern technology has offered some new options. The key is to use fire in a safe manner in order to portray the illusion of danger well-being in control.
To answer this question we have to look at the fire tools, fuel, performer and the venue:
If you're going to perform with fire, first you need something to light. A properly made fire performance tool will take into account the physical need of the tool. Whatever is lit on fire must be designed to handle the heat from the flame, resist damage from being dropped and be compatible with the fuel that it is exposed to. The tool must have a flame resistant wick (usually woven from a Kevlar coated fiberglass yarn) that can be dipped in liquid fuel to provide a long enough burn for the performance. Most tools, burn from 1 to 6 minutes before needing refueled. See more on our picking your first prop page.
The commonly used fuel varies by region. The most common fuel in the United States is Coleman camping fuel, also referred to as white gas. This is an easy to light, fast burning fuel with a moderate to low smoke output. Another common fuel is kerosene, also called "Kero." Kerosene is harder to light, is a longer burning, smokier and harder to extinguish. Kerosene is more common outside of the United States were Coleman fuel is not available. Sometimes alcohol is used where minimal smoke is required. See more on our fuel, page. The tool must be dipped in fuel, to soak the wick before each burn. The wicks can typically be burned a couple hundred times, depending upon the prop, before they have to be replaced. Dropping the tool on the ground a lot will shorten the wick life, and putting out the tool when the flame starts to get small will substantially increase the wick life.
After a tool is fueled, the performer will typically "spin off" the extra fuel, so they don't accidentally transfer fuel to their body and cause a fire hazard. Sometimes advanced performers will keep the extra fuel on their wicks for special effects.
Before performing, one needs to be properly trained in fire safety. You need to be comfortable with your fire tools unlit before you light them. You must be wearing clothing with proper fire retardancy. You need to have a properly trained fire safety prepared to help you if anything goes wrong. Usually your Fire Safety will light your prop with a long wand style grill lighter because it gets their hands away from the fire. The safety will have a fire resistant blanket, usually made from Duvetyn, to smother any flames when the performance is over or something is accidently lit on fire.
See: I need safety info.
See: What should I wear?
Before lighting up, your performance venue needs to be evaluated. First, it must be a place that you have permission to light up. Second, you need a secure place away from where you're performing for the fuel station. Your performance area and fueling area must not be a fire hazard. Also, you need to make sure that no one watching could be put in harm's way.
Ultimately, performing with fire is a form of expression. Even small amounts of fire used creatively can add a unique element to your performance.