safe costumes for fire performers

Tanoura Turned Fire Dress


One wouldn’t want their first driving experience to be in a Ferrari, on a competitive races would they? It’s much the with this fire prop. The fire dress is for only the very experience fire performer and the very experienced spinner. When I hear fire performers ask for a fire dress, it usually always sounds like a crazy request! I really don’t like hearing it! unless the dancer is familiar to spinning, and not spinning poi that is.

There is an actual art to spinning, turning around oneself for extended period of time. Its been used for both meditation and for ancient performance art. Although, not popular in America, there are many places in the world where spinning/whirling is a performance art appreciated much like a ballet or any other kind of dance.

I first saw spinning/whirling in Turkey. And it was there that I learned some details about whirling dervish. That said, it being a ancient Sufi meditation turned tourist attraction didn’t make the art form appealing for me. I don’t like mixing meditation and spirituality, that is still being practiced, with my performance art. The reason why I feel this way is simple, I don’t want to offend any one. Plus, I feel weird doing it.

When I went to a tourist desert camp retreat in Dubai I saw a Tanoura performance for the first time. That is when I was truly inspired! Tanoura is a lot like Dervish, only with the sole purpose to entertain. They spin for up to an hour or longer and use props to add symbolism and intrigue. The first time I saw a Tanoura dancer I fell in love! A year later I was offered a job as a fire and flow belly dancer show in Sharm El Sheik Egypt. I had the great pleasure to see Tanoura every night! I meet and performed with many Tanoura dancers on the same stage. They would usually go on before our group and we shared a dressing room. It was in the back stage area that I learned many things from them. How to turn, use heals, always turn left. What not to eat, never eat dairy. The props and meanings. It was truly and inspiring experience.

Before I went home I bought a Tanoura from Cairo. It was a basic traditional one, with brightly colored geometric designs. At the time I wanted to express my creativity and decided to paint on the Tanoura. I wanted peacocks on one side and naughty pictures of girls on the other. I think I spent too long in a conservative place and this was an artistic rebellion. Regardless of my artistic intentions, the already heavy dress meant for men became unbelievably heavy once layers of painted and gold leaf was added to the already thick canvas. Also, no one understood what I was doing. Tanoura is so unknown in the USA and no one wanted to see a perversion of the original obscure concept indeed.

I dreamed of using my Tanoura and mixing it with Belly Dance but clients, even Egyptian clients, didn’t like the idea of it. Restaurants were open to the seeing it in action, but space was often a problem. One needs a huge space to spin safely with a giant dress. Also, what I did with my Tanoura was a problem. Tradition tanoura is geometric in pattern and always looks the same and, mine was a whimsical creation that only I seemed to fully appreciate.

Everything was to change when I was offered a job at a Medieval Festival for a Magic Belly Dance Show. Tanoura had a place again! We decided to use it for the opening and make the skirt look somewhat like medieval dresses. I made two Tanoura’s with my own hands, using the real tanoura as a templet. I was still obsessed with peacocks, therefore one side sported hand painted peacocks. While the other was constructed to look like a giant dress. Our Tanoura belly dance act, is an art form of unraveling. This is nice because its similar to a tradition tanoura act which is also unraveling and pealing off layers of clothing. We pulled a lot of inspiration from the traditional of belly dance and other oriental dance, and now its a solid staple in this show.

Although I had dreams of making a fire dress in Egypt I knew that making one and using it would be insane without mastering a spinning art form. A fire dress is actually dangerous! In my option the most dangerous of all props. If you are not professional with spinning, than you shouldn’t be thinking of making a fire dress, or using a fire dress. People have died using a fire dress and the way they are made makes standard safety protocols inefficient if you get dizzy and fall on yourself. With Tanoura you shouldn’t stop spinning or the performance magic is broken. With a fire dress you CAN NOT STOP SPINNING, or you go up in a flames with your dress.

In my opinion the best safety measurement to take with all flow arts is practice, practice and practice. Safties are nessasary for a fire show! I use a safety for public events. That said the reliance on your safety when putting on professional shows is not okay. A professional fire performer should not actually use a safety. I have never used my safety. A safety is there in case of an emergency, not as your personal assistant or as someone to put fires out on your body. They are not their to retrieve props that have gone out of control; I’ve seen way to many fire hoops, and other props, being tossed into the audience and the safety being on the other side of the room, making their presence in the show totally useless. Its the performers responsibility to be comfortable with their skills before performing professionally. With a fire dress this advice is even more extreme!

If you can’t hold a log spin without fire, then with fire, and smoke and anxiety with performing, you might actually loose balance. If you fall durning a fire dress act you will be hurt regardless of how talented your safety is. There is a well documented case of a safety instructor, giving a safety class, who landed himself in the hospital because he was was under the impression that he was completely safe with the five or more safeties hovering over him. He did something that was unsafe, his safety was amazing and still he went into the hospital. Again, take precautionary safety measures when doing fire performance such as the fire dress.

Being a good spinner is number one but there is also a number of other factors to take into consideration. A level ground, without cracks and a proper grip for your feet. Spinning on a slope makes spinning so much more difficult, you tend to gravitate toward the lowest part of the room. Also tiles and other cracks effects a spin. pinning on a crack on the floor has a weird effect with balance. If you are a good spinner you can correct yourself and work with a slope or a cracky floor. Unfortunately, if you are not a practiced spinner then strapping yourself into a circle of fire and spinning on a cracks or a slop is working with too many variables and that is when accidents can happen and people get hurt regardless if a safety is present.

I took many precautions with making my dress. I used only material that doesn’t catch, metal! This made the dress safe but rather pricey. I lined the metal with kevlar fabric so the metal wouldn’t catch on my costumes. The dress could easily come off with snaps. The whole profess took me a long time to make, a month in total. The kevlar is four inches from the metal fabric running in a rope by metal chains.

Fueling is very difficult no matter what fuel you use. In America I use white gas and with that I have to lit with a torch while spinning. I’m always afraid when performing in America. The time between fueling and walking out to my spinning position I’m the most scared. I’m always afraid of the performer I’m working with and that they might lit the dress up by getting to close to that much fuel. The prop is so heavily fueled with a product that can easily transfer. In Asia or Europe we use paraffin. This fuel needs time to lite. One has to sit and wait for the fire to catch. This makes me nervous because the timing needs to be right. Spinning prematurely can be a problems and spinning too late could also be a problem. For photoshoots I’ve used a very week fuel that I would never use in an actual show. A very watered down alcohol can used if the dress is stagnate.