1

Amanda Salemi Burns Bright

The definition of fire dancing — a performer dancing with objects such as knives, sticks and swinging rope set ablaze — might scare some people, but not Amanda Salemi, who has been a fire dancer for roughly three years. Salemi had very little dance training before falling in love with the flame at age 28.

Salemi has always wanted to pursue dance, even taking some classes when she was younger before her parents encouraged her to try other sports. “I never went back [to dance], but I always wanted to,” said Salemi.

Her time to get back into dancing came when she was with a friend, the late Tim Davis, who was messing around with a set of light poi, which are the electronic, beginner version of fire poi. The fire poi are the small globes of flame attached to chains, commonly used in fire dancing. He let Amanda try them out, and when she did she, well, she crushed it, and a flame was sparked.

She did so well that Davis bought her her first set of light poi so she could continue practicing, and Salemi credits him with being one of the biggest reasons she began fire dancing. She calls Davis one of her greatest inspirations because he never gave up on her and always believed she could do it.

Once she received the light poi she practiced every day, improving her skill and falling in love with the dancing flames because with the dancing came other positive benefits. “I always felt so meditative and calm while doing it,” she says of her experience twirling the lights.

amandaAs much as she loved dancing with the lights, there came a day where she just thought, “I think I want to do fire,” much to her mother’s dismay who worried for her daughter’s safety. In fact, at Amanda’s first performance, her mother had to leave because watching her daughter dance with flames was too nerve racking. Since then, however, her mother has gotten on board with her daughter’s dreams and livelihood. She is now a proud and supportive fire-mom. Amanda mentions happily, “The whole thing amazes her now.”

As for the burning question that everyone is probably wondering, yes, Amanda has burned herself and gotten hurt while twirling fire. Once, while she was practicing a new move that she “was not ready to try,” she got too scared, doubting herself and burning her arm. Another instance was when she performed at her cousin’s wedding and some fuel got onto her handles. When she lit up her equipment, she also lit her hands on fire. She has learned from that mistake and now carries the fuel away from her other equipment.

Although both experiences hurt her emotionally and physically, she says she had no problem getting back out there and attempting both tricks again, and has never felt in danger while performing on stage with the open flames. “It looks intimidating, but if you know what you’re doing then you’re fine. According to her, the only time she can remember being frightened was when she performed on top of a bus, but that was only because of the height. In her words she has “never been afraid of the flame.” 

In addition to being a freespirited fire dancer, Salemi is the lead singer of the RIbased and 2018 Motif Music Aware nominee Consuelo’s Revenge, a sevenpiece group that plays a little bit of everything, including folk rock and gypsy folk with a strong bluesy vibe. Salemi always wanted to be a singer; she constantly wrote poetry and sang when she was younger but, like the dancing, it took a back seat to the rest of what was going on in her life.

Amanda joined the army right out of high school, where she stayed for six years. After leaving the army, Salemi attended CCRI for a semester, majoring in teaching with a minor in history. She left CCRI, had a son, Liam, and experienced one of the toughest years of her life, which ultimately led her back to singing. She explained that she needed the music. “It was either begin singing again, or lose my mind.”

Consuelo’s Revenge is getting back into the studio to record their third album, and Salemi is releasing her first solo album this summer, a longtime dream of hers. She also hopes to begin incorporating some of her music into her fire dancing performances. Her love for music is so intense that Salemi got a tattoo of a microphone with the wire wrapping all the way around her arm and eventually plugging into her chest, a symbol that the music is always in her heart. The tattoo also is for her father, who always encouraged her to pursue a career in music, and who passed away four years ago. “It’s sort of like a memorial for him,” said Salemi, “because basically all he ever wanted was for me to follow my dream.”

Salemi is certainly following her dream, as the gigs for fire dancing multiply while the popularity of her band spreads, as Consuelo’s Revenge is booking more and more shows. From eating fire to fronting a prospering band, there’s an apparent flame that will continue to burn, fueled from deep inside Amanda’s artistic heart.




March for Our Lives: Why This March Was Different

 

“Enough is enough. Today is the beginning of change, today we honor Parkland and all that they have lost. Thank you everyone for being here, you yourselves are making a difference.” Those are the words of Sofia Capaldo, senior at Johnson and Wales University and organizer of The March for Our Lives rally that took place in Providence on March 24. Her words were touching, but the undeniably harrowing words came out of the mouths of students from various local high schools and colleges.

As I stood there with my camera and my “Am I Next” sign, it became clear to me why I was moved to tears several times during the rally. These were students. Young adults, most of whom were either two years my junior or two years my senior, and they all had had enough. RI citizens were hearing first-hand what it was like to be a high schooler and fear waking up and going to school every morning. They were hearing first-hand how and why giving a teacher a gun wouldn’t make anyone feel safer. Adult protesters who came out to fight for stricter gun laws left the rally feeling more than ever that change was due, that they owed it to these students to fix the warped system that is at fault for too many lost lives.

This rally was different because it provided windows into the lives of students trying to get an education in a world where school shootings have become the new normal. In previous anti-gun violence marches and rallies that I have seen, politicians speak about how they are going to change the laws and make it so that no more children die at the hand of a gun. The next day, however, there is another shooting and the rally/march that took place the day before goes unremembered.

What those rallies had wrong is that people directly affected by the shootings didn’t speak. Sure politicians can be upset and heartbroken about the events, but at least it wasn’t their best friend who got shot; at least they don’t have to live in fear while attending school; at least they don’t have to hear about it on the news and wonder if they’re next.

Nina Gregg, a sophomore at RISD, is from Parkland, Florida. Some of the people killed were her neighbors and family friends. To her, this shooting is personal and change is in order. After her speech, there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. I spoke with Nina afterward and she had a message to deliver to protestors everywhere: “I want to stress that it can’t end today. Just because we’re not going to be having marches every single month, people still need to be taking action.” According to Gregg it doesn’t matter how big or small the change is as long as you make one. “Making a post on Facebook or voting and making that change, it’s all so important.”

Another speaker was Coventry High School junior Tyler Alexander. Alexander ended his speech on a high note passionately saying, “Years from now, historians will look at us and they will see that we have had enough of being afraid, enough of being ignored and dismissed and enough of being murdered.” Tyler also gave recollections of March 14 when his high school believed there was an open shooter on campus. His memory of the event made it even more apparent that students fearing for their lives in school where they should feel safe is absolutely unacceptable, but it has turned into the new normal.

Capalbo says that it was important for her to have the students be the main speakers because it was their time. “It was important to have the students’ voices heard rather than the government officials who are always speaking and getting plastered all over magazines and newspapers. This was about the kids.”

The speakers weren’t the only students in attendance that day. Isabella Caban, a senior at The Met High School was there as a fed-up student and a girl who knows what loss at the hand of a gun is like. “If we had stricter gun control laws, I would still have my father. Living my life without my dad, I can only imagine the life of a parent losing their kid.” Caban hopes that from this rally, stricter gun control laws will arise, so no more families have to feel the pain that is all too familiar to her.

Gina Raimondo, Aaron Regunberg and Jorge Elorza were also in attendance, and it was clear that they are aware of how much students and young adults matter in this fight for change. “It’s literally made the difference. This time it feels like the NRA doesn’t have a response. We have a real chance to make a change and it’s 100% because of the young people taking leadership. We’re all looking to take their lead,” said Regunberg.

It’s true. Young students everywhere are taking leadership. The Millenials and Generation Z have been thrown a lot in this lifetime. School shootings have made it difficult to fully concentrate in and enjoy our learning environment. Yet we haven’t accepted that the way things are are the way they’re going to stay. We’ve fought. As the next generation of politicians, doctors, lawyers and police officers, it’s inspiring to see and know that change is something we expect and are willing to fight for.

I’m proud to be a Millenial because that title means I’m someone who aims to empower others and refine the system. This rally was just the first glimpse of what young learners can do. As Regunberg said, things are changing because of us, and we won’t stop until we are satisfied.




Andrea Perron of The Conjuring House

© Warner Bros. Pictures

The Conjuring movie was a box office success grossing over $319 million globally. It had prominent actors and a world-renowned production crew. But what was the actual conjuring story really like? Andrea Perron has the answers for us — as she is the eldest of the five girls to actually endure the hauntings. 

The Perron Family moved into the Harrisville farmhouse in June 1970, when Andrea was just 12 years old. Her mother, Carolyn, had given it all she had to persuade her husband, Roger, to pack the family up and move into the house; she found the historic charm of the home and its colonial status irresistible. The family had made several visits to the home before the actual big moving day. It was that day that Andrea says she first realized their sweet new home… was anything but. She was walking in from the outside to where Mr. Kenyon, the previous owner, was standing with another man. “I said hello to both Mr. Kenyon and the other man but the man did not respond.” Andrea says of the incident “When I went into the kitchen I said to my mother ‘who’s the man standing in the parlor with Mr. Kenyon?’ and she responded with ‘there is no man in the kitchen with Mr. Kenyon.’” That was Andrea’s first encounter with the dead, however it was not her last. 

Over the course of the next 10 years the Perron Family experienced events that changed them forever. When asked why the family never left the home Andrea brought up the fact that it was the 70’s, the stock market had just crashed and everyone was struggling financially. Not to mention the fact that her mother had begged and pleaded to buy the home, so if they did leave her parents would be ruined. Another factor that kept them from leaving was that her father did not initially believe what was going on. Or better said, he didn’t accept it. For the first few years, he hadn’t personally seen anything like what his family was experiencing, so he simply didn’t believe it. Looking back, Ms. Perron has a different number one reason for staying. It wasn’t the money or her father’s disbelief. She believes they were there for a reason: “We were supposed to learn the lessons that house had to teach us.”

In the decade that the Perron Family lived in Harrisville they experienced numerous encounters with the spirits that occupied the farmhouse. Some of Andrea’s recollections about her encounters with the spirits are as innocent as seeing a rocking chair rock without anyone visually sitting in it, and as horrifying as witnessing her mother being stabbed in the leg by a spirit that, in Andrea’s words, “despised” her mother.

Carolyn was the one who was most affected by the spirits in the home. She became very frail and started talking in old English, almost as if she was going back to the time the house was built. The particular spirit that tortured Carolyn was relentless. One of Carolyn’s first encounters with the supernatural in that house was with that spirit when it beat her with a wooden coat hanger in the family coat closet, which Andrea was witness to. The spirit wanted Andrea’s mother to leave so badly, it spent all its time harassing her and only her. Andrea says it was one of the only actual evil spirits in that home. 

Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were professional paranormal hunters, came to the Perron family hoping to chase away whatever diabolical spirit was torturing Carolyn. Fans of the movie may be surprised to learn that the well known exorcism scene in the movie never actually happened. It was, however, loosely based on the actual attempt Ed and Lorraine made to free Carolyn of the torturous spirit’s presence. Andrea recalls the night of the seance as the worst night and experience of her life, as it was an “absolutely dangerous thing to do” on Ed and Lorraine’s part. She classifies it as being “very irresponsible and spiritual malpractice.” In the movie Carolyn was possessed by the spirit, however in actuality she was picked up in her chair and thrown against the wall. Andrea notes that everyone thought she was dead. To this day Andrea says that Carolyn has no memory of the events of that night, passed Ed and Lorraine’s arrival at the house. “It was like she went somewhere else” She says sadly. Andrea says her father was so upset with how the night turned out “he threw the Warrens out and told them never to return.” It was Lorraine who originally wrote the book that was then turned into the famous blockbuster we now know as  The Conjuring.

Apologies to the lovers of the movie, some inconvenient truth is about to be told. According to Andrea, “only 5%” of The Conjuring was true. She says that the movie producers had to tone it down so much to make sure that it didn’t get an R rating, and that when it eventually did they were absolutely shocked because of how much they took out. Andrea voices, that’s her biggest critic with The Conjuring film. Many think it’s the truth about what she and her family endured but in fact it only told a portion of it. She is still extremely grateful for the movie, even with its inaccuracies. In her words, “Had it not been for the success of The Conjuring our story wouldn’t be out there.” Because of the film she and her siblings are able to tell their story. The movie gave them a platform which they use to tell the real truth behind that decade spent living with the dead. The movie’s huge success has helped Andrea connect with so many people, and apparently she isn’t even close to being sick of all the interviews and commotion of being in the spotlight, stating, “I feel privileged that so many people care so much about my family and our story.” The limelight the movie has brought her and her family is something she’ll never walk away from. 

When she was just 5, Andrea’s teachers wanted her to skip several grades – that smarts is now displayed in her career as a writer. Now residing in Florida, she has most definitely not forgotten her haunted roots. She attends many cons, speaks at lectures and stops and talks with anyone who recognizes her and wants to know more about her sometimes terrifying childhood. Ms. Perron has written two books, documenting her time while living among the dead, and has recently signed a movie deal to write the screenplays for three movies telling the true haunted story about her upbringing in that now-famous farmhouse. 

Has she had any more experiences with ghosts or spirits? Her answer is almost too unbelievable to be true; “I live in a haunted house now” she says casually “the old man who built the house never left and we for the most part live peacefully together.” However peacefully doesn’t totally mean happily, “All my medium friends tell me that the ghost doesn’t like me, but he loves my father, who’s the one who originally purchased the home.” Now that’s proof that sometimes you just can’t escape your past. 

Finally, when asked how the house affected her the most, her response proves that there is always a bright side. “It made me a deeply spiritual person because whenever something scary happened, me and my sisters would pray and almost always it would stop.” 

Throughout our interview, there were numerous times that Andrea referred to the house in such a loving way it surprised me. To her it’s as simple as saying, “There were spirits that we liked and spirits that we didn’t.” After some time living in the house Andrea realized they weren’t just passing through which made her grow to respect the spirits. She now sees the world differently than others, stating that while everyone else sees the world in such a 3-dimensional way, she sees it beyond that; Andrea and her family see much more. 

While most people would take living in a haunted house as a curse, they found the good in it. “We learned so much from that farmhouse, so much about life and death.” She’s not even bitter about apparently “going from a perfectly normal family to a paranormal family.” In one instance Mr. Kenyon said that they’d have to get used to the cold in the house. To her that’s what they had to do, only with the spirits — get used to them. 

It’s that way of thinking that makes Andrea such an intriguing person to talk to with — something that is tough for any horror movie to capture: a noticeably genuine good heart.  She’ll cherish the moments she spent in that farmhouse for as long as the spirits themselves live there. 




A Student’s Perspective on the National School Walk-Out

“No More,” “This is what democracy looks like” and “Enough is enough;” those were the chants heard at the student-run march to end gun violence at the RI State House on March 14.

At 12:45pm students from high schools all over the state walked or drove to the state house in quite a tear-jerking sight as a line of high schoolers marched with their fist in the air holding up signs that read everything from “Stop NRA” to more gut wrenching ones asking, “Am I next?”

Thousands of students came out to show support for the victims of the deadly shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida, last month. The point of the march was to call attention to the gun violence that has been terrorizing our nation’s schools for the past decade, while also calling out congress for not actively doing anything to stop it.

Annie Rogers, a junior at Lasalle Academy, participated in the march. “I’m here because I don’t think anybody should be scared to go to school and I really don’t appreciate the amount of lives that have been lost due to needless gun violence.” So far, just in 2018 alone there have been more than 14 shootings at schools, most ending in casualties. Young learners are taking notice.

Before the march, there was a nationwide school walk-out at 10am. Many schools, such as Seekonk High School, made preparations for the walk-out in advance, hosting sign-making sessions after school. Others, such as The Met High School, took the approach of standing in solidarity silently for the 17 minutes the walkout went on. Schools like East Providence High School had a chanting battle as half of the student body held up signs demanding gun control, the other half held up signs suggesting that it is not the answer.

Dorian Woods, a Junior at East Providence High School who was one student in charge of her own school’s walk-out, said that the protesters on the side disagreeing with gun control are free to their own opinion, but that it was a bit disrespectful. “Of course everyone has a right to their own opinion. However, the walk-outs for gun control were nationwide and I feel like this time it was actually disrespectful for them to disrupt the movement.” Woods also said that they were missing the point. While their signs indicated that the majority of them believed mental illness is the biggest culprit in school shootings, “He [Cruz] probably would not have killed 17 people if he went into that school with a knife. All the protests are saying is that we need gun reform in order to change things in the future.” After the walk-out, Woods attended the march to further show her support and call for change.

Another student from Lasalle Academy, senior Jack Kineke, is marching because according to him, it makes us one step closer to change. “I want to make sure what happened in Parkland doesn’t happen anywhere else,” he said. In the past, peaceful protests such as this one have caught attention all over the world and have made a difference. For instance, the women’s march in protest of Donald Trump’s sometimes derogatory and sexist comments about females and the Black Lives Matter marches in protest of the unfair treatment of black people in the US have made people wake up and see that what’s happening is not okay, and that’s what can happen with this march as well.

While the majority of those who participated were students, there were people who attended who were not, such as Annie Gjelsvik. “I’m marching because my 12-year-old daughter is here and i’m supporting her,” she said. Not only is Annie showing support for her daughter, she is also showing support for every other student who came out and credits them for all they are doing. “The students are leading this because they know that what’s happening in the United states is wrong and we need to follow their lead.”

Students aren’t going to keep blindly accepting what’s happening, and this march made that even more evident. Most teenagers, get a bad rap for only caring about what hashtag to add in their Instagram caption. That truly is not the case. We care so much that not even the snowstorm that hit RI with 12 inches the night before could stop us from marching. We are the ones who when not seeing change, make it. We are the ones who spread empowerment in each other. We are the ones who will end this unnecessary bloodshed that has been plaguing our country for far too long.

This generation expects change and is willing to smear lines that have long ago been drawn to get it. Today we marched, tomorrow congress delivers.




March for Our Lives to Take Place in RI

On February 14, 2018, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that took the lives of 17 people, 15 of whom were students, shook the nation. As many grieved in silence, others spoke out about the tragedy on Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms. Sophie Capalbo, a senior at Johnson and Wales University, saw what happened not as another chance to post her condolences on social media, but as an opportunity to make a change.

Sophia Capalbo
Sophia Capalbo

Capalbo says she was sitting in her room when the numbness from recent shootings wore off, leaving her feeling rage as she watched the news reporting the event. According to Capalbo, “It was the last straw.” She was left feeling as though she had to do something, but unsure where to start. She decided a march would be the best and most effective way to get the point across and get people’s attention. Still keeping up with the news, she witnessed the surviving teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School announce their plans for a peaceful March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, and encourage other communities to march in support; this overjoyed Capalbo because it gave her the platform to make her idea a reality.

She immediately decided to organize a March for Our Lives in RI, and spread the word by creating posters that announced the date and the time the march would take place and plastering them up everywhere. People took notice and soon, students at her school were posting about it all over Facebook. Capalbo, who is a member of a sorority, asked the Greek community and her senior classmates for help.

Before long, people were signing up to speak at the event, and efforts began to get state officials to attend. Capalbo hopes that after this march and the marches across the nation, legislators will get a wake-up call that change is due. “Rather than sitting back and praying and hoping for change, action is actually getting played out,” said Capalbo.

The march is set to take place on the State House lawn on March 24 at 1pm, and will include high school and college student speakers. There will also be different organizations in attendance, such as Moms Demand Action, and voter registration tables will be set up for those who are 18 or will be 18 before the November election and wish to register to vote. The march will also include music, and independent fundraisers will be held. Capalbo is currently working on getting more state officials and the mayor to be in attendance and show their support.

Capalbo encourages everyone to attend the march. “It not only shows physical support, it also shows emotional support for Parkland, to tell them, ‘We stand with you.’” She also says its important as a community and even more so as a nation to come together. To her, this march is the perfect opportunity to “build up what has been broken down.” If you agree then don’t just tweet your support — come on out and march.

March for Our Lives RI will take place on Mar 24 from 1 – 3pm, starting at the RI State House. For more information, visit: facebook.com/events/190205921712346 or marchforourlives.com