Playing With Fire

In addition to being the director of Photography for “Oasis Motel,” the new drama from Shoot the Stars, junior Amy West has been teaching herself to fire dance. Jackalope Magazine recently sat down with her to talk fire dancing, her filmmaking and performing for yourself.

Jackalope Magazine: What brought you to SFUAD?

Amy West: I am originally from Petaluma, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area.


JM: Oh, that explains the hippy vibe.

AW: Yeah, exactly. (laughs) I’m definitely a northern California girl at heart. I went to an art college fair at my high school, and I was interested in getting out of California. I know it’s a little counter intuitive, and I figured there’s probably a shit ton of film students out in California, and Santa Fe looked like it would be a different experience and give me a different perspective.


JM: I’m assuming you were a dancer before you began fire dancing—

AW: I was not!


JM: OK, so how did fire dancing start?

AW: I have a best friend back home who goes to Reed College in Oregon, which is like a super hippy liberal college, and they have a fire dancing team. We got together over winter break of my sophomore year, after she’d been doing it for a while, and we made a video together. While we were making it, she was like ‘hey you should do this too,’ and I was like ‘Oh my God I want to.’ I had done color guard in middle school and there’s a prop called staff that she bet I could [use]. So we went and got a curtain rod, and I just started playing with it and my friend said ‘you you can do this,’ so I built my own fire staff and started looking at Youtube videos on how to do it.


JM: You have a standing show don’t you?

AW: Yeah. At Chalk Farm Gallery on Canyon Road. I did it more when it was little bit warmer. I go every Friday and Saturday night if weather is permitting. I can fire dance in the rain, I don’t really mind, but if it’s raining there’s gonna be nobody out there to watch, so it’s not really worth it.


JM: Is it trickier to fire dance in the rain?

AW: It can get slippery. I’m mostly worried about getting my boombox wet. Also, it’s not really good to get the wicks wet on the staff.


JM: Are there any cool tricks that you’ve picked up?

AW: Yeah, when I started I was just doing regular staff spinning, which is all grip. Then I started getting into contact staff, which is spinning without using your hands. Rolling it down your shoulders, around your neck. I’m working on one right now where it goes under my armpit, across my chest, then under my other armpit and back up my arm. It’s just all these moves that look like they defy gravity, and those are my favorites. Those are the hardest, but most satisfying for sure.


JM: Is it just because it’s so hard?

AW: Just because it doesn’t seem to make sense. The way that it moves on your body, it just looks so…it defies everything you know about physics.


JM: Is fire dancing something you hope to continue?

AW: I definitely hope I keep doing it. There’s always so much more to learn. It feels endless and it’s really satisfying. It’s a hobby, it’s also fun, I’ve been able to make money with it, been able to entertain with it. It’s almost meditative for me, and a really good way to stay in touch with my body. Using my limbs and arms, instead of just sitting in front of a computer. It feels really good to have a reason to use my body. Which sounds weird.


JM: How would you describe fire dancing? Both in the sense of watching it and in the sense of doing it?

AW: When I first started watching my friend doing it, the first thing is like ‘wow that person is messing around with fire, that looks very dangerous and cool.’ But, when you’re actually doing it, it becomes much less about the fire. Obviously there’s something really satisfying about controlling something dangerous, but it’s really, almost calming. First couple of times I got an adrenaline rush, but now it’s almost relaxing. There’s something about having a certain level of concentration. You’re totally focused on what you’re doing, but not about hurting yourself. You get over the fact that it’s dangerous really fast. I try to focus really hard on making it look melodic rather than just tricks. My personal style relies more on the dance and melodic aspects than ‘ooh, look at this danger.’ I don’t know if that answered your question at all.


JM: How would you describe yourself as a film major?

AW: I’m really passionate about indie cinema. As a filmmaker, I’m really interested in new filmmakers that are different from the Hollywood norm. I get really excited about socially aware films.


JM: How do you contextualize your fire dancing and filmmaking?

AW: I think that filmmaking is an art I put a lot of effort into. It’s obviously something that I’m passionate about and something I want to pursue as a career. It’s something I’m intellectually involved in. I’m really into film theory, ethics and feminist film theory. Whereas, fire dancing is more personal to me. I guess they’re both forms of entertainment for people, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of that. Fire dancing is something I got into because I liked how my body feels when I’m doing it. I like it when there’s people to watch, but it doesn’t make much of a difference. It’s definitely much more personal. Filmmaking is to share perspective. Fire dancing is like, if other people are enjoying it then great, that provides motivation, but really it just feels good to do.