Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday June 19th 2018


Up in Flames

By Lilia Del Bosque Oakey Whitehouse

After being injured in the Army, Zach Dwyer picked up a nontraditional therapy to help in the healing process—devil sticks. Devil sticks, a long stick that is juggled between two thicker sticks, proved to be an activity that not only helped Dwyer through recovery but also launched an unexpected venture.

“I was going through recovery with my arms and my doctor suggested juggling,” said Dwyer. He had been playing with devil sticks off and on for about five years.

“Therapy got me back into it and I started watching more and more juggling videos.”

One Christmas, Dwyer got a set of fire devil sticks and started learning to juggle fire. After watching hours of videos, he learned about flow arts such as poi, a performance art that originated in New Zealand that involves swinging tethered weights.

In July 2012, Dwyer decided that he wanted to make juggling fire and flow arts more than a hobby so he started Up In Flames Entertainment, a fire performance group. The group now has almost 20 performers in four cities—Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, Birmingham, and Atlanta—that perform with a variety of flow toys including fire hoop, fire fans, fire poi, and fire staff.

Meghan Lords has been hooping for four years after learning about it at a festival.

“I saw a girl hooping and it looked interesting and I wanted to learn it,” said Lords. “I ended up getting a hoop and shortly after I started making my own hoops and selling them locally.” Lords performs with the fire hoop, a hula hoop that has five wicks that get lit on fire. She has been performing with the fire hoop for two years and, like many of the other performers with Up In Flames, has the bruises and burns that come with learning new tricks.

“It looks more dangerous than it actually is. The fire is moving so fast that it doesn’t really have time to burn on you,” said Lords. “When you transition to fire, you have to be extremely comfortable with your flow toy. The big difference is that hooping with fire is very loud, so loud that you can’t hear the music. But you get used to it.”
Lucas Burdette, who learned fire poi after also seeing performers at a festival, adds that transitioning to fire is a bit jarring.

“It’s a big transition move from spinning balls on string and moving to chains and fire,” said Burdette. “The moves are a lot different and it’s a lot heavier.”

Callie Decrow hoops and performs with the orbit, a four pointed LED or fire star that has two strings used for twisting and turning the star. She has been playing with flow toys for about eight months and got involved after seeing Dwyer perform at a charity event.

“[I] got really interested and other people started teaching me,” Decrow said. “Right after, I bought a hoop.”

Decrow says that being part of a performance group has helped her improve. “It’s fun to perform as a group because you learn from each other … You can teach each other.”

“There is also a lot of variety when you perform with a group,” said Lords. “Instead of being limited to watching one toy or one person, we are able to show a variety.

Also, everyone is very supportive and accepting. I get a really strong sense of community.”

And it’s a community that’s growing. Hooping, or modern hula hooping with dance or for fitness, is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the country. In Pensacola, Up In Flames and the Pensacola Hoop Tribe host weekly spin jams and monthly workshops to create a larger community of flow artist and to introduce new people to the
flow arts. All spin jams and workshops are open for anyone to participate, learn, or just watch.

“If you ever see anyone spinning or playing with any flow toys and you’re interested in it, just go talk to that person,” said Dwyer. “Everyone in the community is very open and likes to share and teach and expand our community.”

But beyond performing and meeting other artist at weekly spin jams, Dwyer is most excited about exposing the community to something new.

“Above all,” said Dwyer, “I love being able to offer Pensacola a different type of art form.”

WHEN: Weekly spin jams every Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m.; Workshops also held last Saturday of every month at locations in Pensacola, Navarre and Fort Walton Beach
WHERE: Bayview Park, E. Lloyd St.