Fire Walks With Them

Peggy Spellman Hoey

Adults tell you not to play with fire when you’re a child. It will burn, it will hurt you, they say. Most people take that advice and stay away from it throughout their lives. They don’t run to it.

Instead, they run away.

But not everyone.

Some are drawn to fire. They become friends with it, and engage in play with it, often. They master the element to the point where their relationship becomes an intricate dance.

“It’s kind of like love at first sight,” said Samantha Ruddock, one of three principal performers with the East End’s very own fire troupe, The Fiery Sensations, of her attraction to fire.

Ruddock, a professional actress and filmmaker originally from Montauk, mastered flames with ease, swinging a flaming hula hoop around her waist and neck. She then danced in tandem with another trouper against the backdrop of alternative rock along the beach outside of the Montauk Yacht Club on May 17 for the Montauk Music Festival’s opening party.

“To bond with fire is a spiritual thing,” she said.

When you are the only people out there playing with fire, you are going to hear about each other, according to Susan Blacklocke, another principal in the troupe and an East End native. About 10 years ago, Blacklocke began attending the Sagg Main drumming circle, a group that gathers at Sagg Main Beach to play Samba drums and dance.

Blacklocke would go to the beach and practice her poi — weighted, tethered bags that can be swung by hand, forming geometric patterns.

The people who dance with fire always find each other. “Fire is a bond that you have,” said Evan Thomas of Amagansett, who goes by the nickname “Toast.” He is the group’s fire breather, wowing crowds as he seemingly swallows, then spews, fire on stage. Off-stage, he acts as the group’s executive, making bookings, paying insurance, and purchasing fuel for practice and gigs.

“It pretty much started with the three of us,” said Blacklocke, whose day job is the supplements manager for Provisions Natural Foods Grocery and Café in Sag Harbor.

The group maintains the trio as principals and there are about seven “satellite” people who are rotated in and out for different performances. Their performances range from fire breathing, fire hooping, and fire poi, to fire fans, staffs, juggling, and snakes, to meteor showers, which involves creating and throwing sparks.

The troupe practices often to stay on top of their craft, according to Thomas. “Quite a lot, though it’s a little more difficult together,” he said.

For Blacklocke, who wields fire poi like a ninja wields swords, it’s not only about practice.

“It’s still the first thing that I want to do when I get up. For me, it’s meditative. It opens my body,” she said.

Ruddock agrees. “You feel the flow,” she added.

To protect themselves from their craft, the troupe tries to stay away from synthetic clothing, instead favoring natural fibers such as denim, leather, and thick cotton. And they do wear fire retardant fabric when possible, and for further protection, they douse themselves with water before performances.

Sometimes the performers do get burned, so they make sure to carry honey, which aids in healing burns. They also always have someone on hand for fire protection in case there is a mishap. The spotter’s purpose is to watch the performance and check the troupe’s clothing to make it does not catch fire.

It’s a case where the spotter might have to point out, “Hey, Evan, left hip,” Ruddock said adding, all joking aside, “We take safety very seriously.”

Despite getting burned, they do always come back for more because each time is like the first time they burned — the term used for setting their implement on fire for the first time. It never gets tired, according to Ruddock.

“My body — it doesn’t happen often — but my body talked to me and said, ‘You have to do this.’ It was like a soulmate relationship you have with love at first sight and you are shot out of a chair,” she said.

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