Hot new club at Grinnell

By Colin Ludlow

Fire artists Chloe Pachovas ’14 and Pelle Hall ’14 staged an exclusive demonstration of their unique craft for the S&B last Tuesday night. Armed with a staff and a tool similar to a flail, the pair demonstrated Grinnell’s latest art form on Mac Field.

Pelle Hall ’14 shows off his fire skills on Mac Field on Tuesday night. Photo by Devon Gamble

Let’s start with the basics. What do you call this club and what do you do here?
Pelle Hall: We call it Fire Arts. We train people to do the arts that we do. So poi. Staff. Anything else you feel like bringing.
Chloe Pachovas: Hula-hoop!
PH: Hula-hoop. Not me. But go for it!

What are the names of your equipment again? Where do you get it all?
PH: We have staff and poi. Or, fire staff and fire poi. Basically, we bought all the equipment from Ace Hardware. Actually, the Kevlar we got online. We made the stuff last semester. We’ll be making or buying more stuff this semester. Yet to be determined.

Let’s say I’m a brand new member. I read this article, and I wanted to join. What process would I go through? What would my training entail?
PH: Show up Fridays at seven. Currently, we’re on Mac Field, but we’ll probably move inside to the Forum when the weather gets bad. Alternatively, you could email [firearts].
CP: Email [firearts], anyway!
PH: Yeah, email [firearts], anyway, to get on our mailing list. As for your training, it would be going up and practicing however much you want. Hopefully you’ll eventually get good enough for fire.
CP: Really, all you can do is practice. It just takes times getting used to the feeling of the poi.

Once you are experienced, would you say it’s a dangerous art still? What kind of “ouchies” have you suffered while doing this?
CP: We use kerosene because it burns at a low temperature. You don’t usually burn yourself unless you hold it up against your skin for a little while. I’ve hit myself a lot. As long as you don’t catch yourself on fire, usually, it doesn’t hurt at all. I’ve never been burned. I’ve singed my hair a little bit before. Don’t ever wear any flammable hair products.

How do people react when you tell them what your hobby is? How do your families react?
PH: I don’t know. My parents are supportive. I started in my room with my little string poi after visiting another college that did it. I locked myself in my room over winter break. They didn’t really care.
CP: I never did it with fire before getting to Grinnell, so my parents haven’t seen me do it. My grandma’s really excited about it. She used to spin batons.

How would you like to see the club expand? What numbers are you looking for?
PH: It would be sweet if we had twenty people confident in spinning fire, but whoever comes and shows up—that’s what we have. We can’t say, ‘hey, show up and we’ll let you spin fire.’ Someone needs to be really invested in the process and want to learn themselves. For the practices, I would like to get as many as we can get.
CP: It would be great, also, if first and second years would come and figure it out. Be passionate about it, and pass on the club. We’re both going to be out of here in a couple of years, not even. It would be nice if someone would carry it on.

Now for the final question: what’s it like to be inside the flames?
PH: You feel like you’re in your own special world. People will yell out my name, and I’ll think, ‘someone said my name. I don’t really care. Not important. It’s not right next to me.’
CP: It’s really disorienting, too. There’s all this heat and light. You can’t see, especially when doing it in the dark. You can’t see outside of that box of light. You just think ‘where am I?’
PH: Even just the sound of it. It’s almost—I don’t know—‘jet-engine-y?’It’s just spinning around. It’s all around you. It’s awesome.

The Fire Arts Club will only offer official training in the tools used, such as staff and poi. The use of fire will occur outside of official club activities and will continue to be unassociated with Grinnell College.