Finding community amongst the flames
By Kendra Walker
Fire has held many meanings over the years here in Crested Butte. Sometimes we’ve feared it – our history points to heartbreaking loss from mining and bank fires and explosions, and every summer we do our best to keep the wildfire dangers away. But we’ve also embraced and celebrated fire – from the wood-burning stoves that keep many of us warm in the winter, to the 12th Night Bonfire spectacle and the burning of our grumps.
Fire can also mean community, and there’s a small community of Crested Butte artists keeping the beauty and celebration of fire alive in this town. The Crested Butte Fire Arts Collective (CBFAC) shares the common goal to provide sacred and safe fire performances.
In Crested Butte tradition, fire dancers have played a critical role in the annual Vinotok celebrations every fall. But in recent years, fire performances have grown in popularity, and you may have seen these talented dancers around town more and more – from pop ups on Elk Avenue, to Sleds and Kegs, to the Wine and Food Festival.
“We really saw interest grow because of the 2021 Move the Butte performance,” says Taylor Randoll, who has been fire spinning since 2020. That year, the audience watched the dance performances from outside the Center for the Arts to accommodate COVID health protocols, which opened up the opportunity for fire dancing. “We got a lot of people involved that year, and the community responded really well. I’ve observed more and more interest over the last several years. That motivated us to create something more official and start offering private events,” she says.
The CBFAC was formed this spring by Randoll, Katie Cascino, Cat Mailloux and Garrett Riskey. The CBFAC brings together a troupe of conscious flow artists with the common goal of safe and sacred performances. The group offers performances ranging from fire spinning, acro yoga and LED flows for a variety of events, weddings and celebrations around town. Each member brings their own unique fire skills and props to the table, including fans, flower sticks, staffs, hoops, poi and fire eating.
“We believe our work with fire is a gift and a privilege and a way to honor and connect to the Divine. As a troupe we strive to facilitate safety above all, and sacrament and divinity subsequently,” says Randoll of their mission.
Randoll says they have a group of about 10 people they regularly work with for events, and she estimates there are at least 25 fire spinners in the Gunnison Valley.
“I love fire spinning, it’s a great way to relax and connect with the community and now it’s really cool to see the opportunities grow and get invited to large-scale events,” says Riskey, who started fire spinning six years ago and has been performing at Vinotok for the last five years.
Aside from town events and private bookings, the group offers a flow jam every Tuesday evening at the Center for the Arts for fire dancers and any other performers to come practice skills. While they do not light up with actual fire during these flows, it provides folks an opportunity to work on their moves, meet with other performers or just have a carefree dance.
“We welcome all circus folk,” says Randoll. “Anyone is welcome to join in the flow. We enjoy holding that space as a dedicated practice space, but also as a platform for people who are curious to get involved.”
“It’s a safe space for people to share their creative arts where we can learn from each other and get inspired by each other,” agrees Cascino, who started playing with fire when she moved to Crested Butte in 2013 and began organizing fire artists for Vinotok in 2014.
Safety is the highest priority any time they perform with fire. All four members of the CBFAC leadership team are privately insured for fire. The group always has fire extinguishers and fire blankets on hand, and they use verbal protocols. Randoll says they rotate fire safety responsibilities as each performer works through their dance flow. Their fire props have wicks made from Kevlar, which they soak in white gas and then light to set on fire. They perform in clothing made of natural fibers, like cotton, that melts off skin rather than melting onto skin. The team takes fire extinguisher safety courses with the Crested Butte Fire Protection District every year. They also make sure to check in with neighbors before performances and giving them a heads up.
“Fire spinning can be very dangerous, but we have a really safe community, which is really rad,” says Mailloux, who started fire spinning for Vinotok in 2021.
When asked if they ever get burned, Mailloux confirmed, “All the time.”
Outside of Crested Butte performances, the group also travels to other fire festivals together. Most recently, they were at the Planet V festival in Naturita, Colorado.
“Planet V was great because it’s a three-day festival and we were fire spinning every night,” says Riskey. “We could break out skills we don’t normally do, and we also got to connect with different troupes from other places and learn from them.”
And while each member of the CBFAC leadership team has developed and lives out their fire spinning craft in different ways, they all agree that the art has provided them with a strong sense of community in Crested Butte.
“I think Crested Butte is really cool and unique to allow the variety of creative cultures,” says Mailloux. “There are so many outdoorsy and athletic folks here, which was the draw for why I initially came here. But there’s a huge artist community here and everyone is very connected and very supported, particularly with the fine arts.”
“In other places, like Denver where I came from, there’s a pretty big fire flow community there, but not really the opportunities to practice or perform it,” says Riskey. “Out here, we are the fire spinning group, and if you want fire there’s people to call. It’s so nice to progress and grow in our own space but be very much appreciated while learning and growing our skills.
“When I got into fire spinning, there was no question I would be doing it forever,” says Randoll. “And I’m so grateful for our role in the fire flow community, to be performing and providing opportunities for my fellow artists to be supported.”
For more information about the CBFAC, visit www.cbfirearts.com.