Wildfire: A Warm Welcome Home

For all the places I have traveled and the communities I have been a part of, many have come close, but none equal that of the family of Wildfire. I was a stranger in a strange world for only mere minutes. This retreat into the woods of Connecticut brings together the flow arts community of fire-breathers, fire-spinners, jugglers and other live performers from across the country to teach and learn from one another. Even more importantly, it’s a place for open-minded individuals of all ages and backgrounds to support and push each other through life. wild.2

I don’t spin any fire and can barely hold my pen without dropping it. That didn’t matter to one of my best friends, Dani Rei, who has been attending this event for the past seven seasons (there are two to three retreats a year for this event). She gave me a green contact juggling ball to practice with and eventually gave me my own red one. She encouraged me to come along and experience something fresh and positive. Positive it was! One of the first people I met was a long-time attendee named Patrick. He greeted me and when he learned it was my first time, he gave me a big hug and said, “Welcome home.”

Even Dani Rei had a similar experience her first time. “I was so nervous at how they would react to me. I’ve only been spinning for about year,” she said. “I remember everyone telling me, ‘Welcome home.’ Most of them were excited for me, encouraged me and offered to teach me a trick right on the spot.”

Everyone camps out in tents at J.N. Webster Scout Reservation or take an available cabin to share. In the main hall, they serve three square meals a day (which is considered a “luxury” for my life) staffed by volunteers. The dozens of attendees also bond by volunteering for cooking, cleaning, set ups and break downs, among other duties. It’s honestly a great way to not only meet more people there, but to learn little things like how fuel is contained.

In between the volunteering are the classes set up in various locations inside and outside. Even though was it my first retreat, but I got to teach the class “How To MC,” modest compared to Dani Rei, who has taught belly dancing, fire fans, slack line, hula hoops and so on. All are welcome to join any class or just relax, hike a trail or swim in the pond. I took classes in hooping and juggling with my shiny red ball, and learned about what seemed like five years of tricks in a single hour.

At night, things heat up in a field of fire. The DJ hits the music and all the fire spinners come out to play! Absent of city lights and under the cover of a starry night, a section of field lined by rope lights, torches and fire pits is opened up for those spinning various props on fire including poi, staffs and weapons. (Is he twirling a scythe on fire? Yes. Yes he is.) All those partaking are given free training in fire safety to act as support to quickly put out props and/or performers that spontaneously combust.

The big event a majority awaited for was the performance showcase – a vaudeville variety of artists performing in an outdoor amphitheater on a dirt stage with a moonlit pond as the backdrop. On either side of the stage are tall stacks of burning logs, complete with rotating spotlights and a sound system for music. As a host of many events, I threw my hat in to host and I was given the honor to do so. Even as a newcomer, I was welcomed with a roaring crowd – one of the best audiences I’ve had the pleasure to be in front of. Every performance stood out from the rest with lighting, songs, costume, props and tone to the story they wanted to tell. Imagine a really hot interpretive dance and mime.

Even after several seasons attending and being a fan, this was Dani Rei’s first time in the showcase and showing off her fans to future fans [pun intended]. She celebrated the routines of all the earlier performers while nervously awaiting her moment. “I felt inadequate,” she said afterward. “I was so excited to hear everyone tell me later how much they loved it.”

Memorial Day wrapped up with everyone sharing stories while breaking down and cleaning up the grounds as if we were never there. Nevertheless, those memories I retain have proven otherwise, as for days after I had a feverish drive for creating and practicing not only the routines I’ve learned for juggling, hooping and now fire fans, but my own other art projects. Coming out of a no judgment/no drama realm, I felt a new appreciation for the flow arts community and a new respect for my fellow humans.

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