Fire Dancing and Flow Art has been an amusing source of entertainment for many people at parties and social gatherings over the ages. Although commonly associated with the negligent hippie mentality, and therefore commonly ridiculed, these arts have a deeper significance. Sure they are fun to watch and the concept of being in control of fire may seem appealing; but what is it about the performances that make the experience so meaningful not only to the audience but to the performers as well?
To start, I will give a brief history of their creation and early implementation into society. In the beginning it is theorized that fire dancing originated in Polynesia by the Maori tribe habiting what is now New Zealand. To tone their muscles and wits for battle the tribesman would often practice with Poi, a performance element constructed of a ball at the end of a string. They would swing the Poi around, one in each hand, and strengthen their muscles as well as tone their reflexes to objects moving around them at rapid speeds.
From there Fire Dancing was elaborated upon by multiple influential people who had seen a performance and added their own adjustments and creativity. This added elements like the staff, sword, knife, whip, and fan into the mix; though over a span of several decades. Its most commonly speculated arrival in the United States is in Hawaii where tourists would be entertained on sandy beaches. From there inspiration spread to large music festivals like Burning Man and with the help of the 60’s, spread farther still.
All of this is well and good but what is the point? My analysis is aiming to explain what it is about Fire Dancing that has caused it to grow into what it is today. Looking at its progression in different societies in the past, the main question that I keep landing on is: Why is an ancient training regiment for physical combat so interesting throughout the ages, even after we have progressed past relying on those fighting methods?
To answer this, I look to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who has become an icon for the Flow Art community. In short, he spent his life researching a phenomenon he called Flow. This is a mental state of being where the person is totally focused on pushing themselves and their limits in a natural and totally comfortable setting. His examples include such things as the runners high, a mental state of calm and relaxation for runners on a long journey. He believed that by achieving Flow you can actually become happier as a person.
What this means is Fire Dancing and Flow Art are not just ways of entertainment, but of self expression and growth. They help people find peace in their daily lives through simple goal setting and relaxation that can be difficult or expensive to find elsewhere. When the performance begins you are not just watching someone perform cool stunts, you are being relaxed and stimulated both mentally and physically.