By Zach Sweat, Staff Reporter
On a dark night at Neptune Beach, a small group of observers gathered around to watch as a fire spinner ignited each end of his staff.
As the music blasting from the boombox approached the song’s drop, the fiery staff whipped around the spinners body at an increasingly fast pace as ball of fire shrouded him and lit up the night sky.
Fire spinning, or fire dancing, as it is commonly referred to, is a type of performance art that harnesses and manipulates objects on fire.
A wide array of tools such as poi, staves, swords, whips, and nearly any martial weapon can be lit on fire and used in this stunning presentation.
The art form has recently seen an explosion of popularity in Jacksonville, and groups have forming a strong spinning community in the area.
Brian Davis, a coastal biology senior at UNF, has been spinning for roughly five years. Davis said that he mainly spins poi (tethered weights
traditionally made of flax and spun by the Maori people of New Zealand) but also practices with other various tools, like the staff.
For his first two years of spinning, Davis said he knew no other spinners and practiced by watching videos on YouTube.
“After the first two years, I was tired of spinning alone, so I started JAX Flow with two other friends,” Davis said.
JAX Flow is a free-to-join spinning group, which features monthly training sessions and demonstrations for anyone looking to get into the art of spinning.
UNF psychology junior Thomas Nicks McCaleb frequently practices with the JAX Flow group and said he loves the simplicity of spinning.
“It’s kind of like a meditation in a way,” he said. “You just get into a flow.”
Davis said, ultimately, he hopes JAX Flow will help spread the spinning scene even deeper into Jacksonville and the surrounding areas.
Theresa Lopez, a UNF graphic design alumna, began spinning two years ago and teamed up with the JAX Flow group.
“I was in a really bad funk, and I just wanted to pick up something new,” said Lopez. “I decided to take it on as a discipline. It was something I could do to better myself everyday.”
Another Jacksonville-based group, Got Fire Entertainment, has also gathered interest from UNF students and the wider community.
Got Fire Entertainment performs at weddings, house parties, clubs, bars and other gatherings, and is made up of four spinners and four staff members.
Got Fire formed after James Fuller and his friends attended a fire spinning show called Bangarang in Jacksonville last October.
“We saw Adam Grimes there, spinning poi, and it seemed like something that we really would be into,” Fuller said.
After the event, Fuller and his friends constructed their own equipment from parts obtained at Home Depot and began practicing.
“I think the coolest thing about watching it is how intense they get about it,” said Melodie Cobb, Got Fire’s event coordinator and a UNF student. “It’s really beautiful to see them perform; it’s definitely an art form.”
Fuller said practicing in a public place such as Neptune Beach forces the spinners to get used to performing in front of a live audience and makes the group better during its shows.
Got Fire Entertainment welcomes anyone who is interested in the art of fire manipulation and encourages people to come out and watch their shows. The group has a separate branch, called Universal Flow, that is dedicated to recreational spinning, and is free to join, requiring no previous experiences in spinning.
Fuller said the members will assist anyone who needs help with assembling their own fire spinning tools for practice and performance. They will soon begin their own product line of fire spinning tools, Fuller said.
Members of Got Fire Entertainment and Universal Flow said the community of Jacksonville shows strong signs of being a fire spinning hotbed.
“It really surprised me when we first got started how many people were really interested in it and how quickly people became really good at it once they picked it up themselves,” Fuller said. “It’s definitely spreading really fast, like wildfire.”
Email Zach Sweat at [email protected]
JAX Flow meets at Memorial Park in the historic Five Points area on the second Saturday of each month. Anyone is welcome, and the group offers spinning tools, available for free use and for purchase. Contact Davis and the rest of his group via the JAX Flow Facebook page.