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The Daily Wildcat

77° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Performers play with fire


    Did Tucson just get hotter? We’re not talking about the degrees steadily creeping up into the summer months. Elemental Artistry, a professional entertainment group, specializes in tossing, twirling, eating, breathing, and doing all kinds of things with fire — and they’re doing it all over Tucson.

    After moving here in 2000, Michelle Baas searched for organizations where she could continue to utilize her baton-twirling talents.

    “”I used to twirl baton for 12 years, and in 2000 I went to the world championship,”” Baas said. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Tucson, where she stumbled upon the art of fire dancing.

    The choreography accompanied with the twisting and tossing of blazing props intrigued Baas, and the relation seemed close enough to her previous art form that she decided to try her hand at playing with fire — professionally, of course.

    Then in 2007, when Elemental Artistry’s founder was looking to step down, Baas was looking to step up.

    “”I had already been doing (fire dancing) for seven years,”” said Baas, who took the chance to act as the group’s artistic director.  

    In 2008, with Baas’ encouragement, Michelle Larson joined Elemental Artistry as a co-artistic director. “”I had a lot of experience with belly dancing and other types of performance arts,”” Larson said. “”So when Michelle asked me to join … it was a smooth transition into performing and learning how to work with fire as well.””

    Stage fright never presented itself as an obstacle to either Baas or Larson.

    “”We only needed to build a relationship with the fire,”” said Baas, whose relationship with flame flourished with ease. “”I really like the element of danger when working with fire. And the heat that it produces is exhilarating to be around.””

    Larson concurred. “”I just love to move and dance and be a part of something — to be able to create an experience of artistic expression,”” she said. “”So for me, it could be fire, it could be belly dancing, it could be synchronized swimming. … It’s fun and exciting … to create with your body and express yourself through movement.””

    Fire dancing has experienced tremendous growth in popularity in the last few years thanks to the Internet and YouTube. Elemental Artistry welcomes the craze, and has spent its time creating new material and learning even more complicated tricks.

    Tucson provides the ideal environment for fire dancing to reach new heights. “”You can be outside all year round,”” Larson said. “”Tucson draws an artistic-minded community. … There’s a lot of different types of movement and artistic expression going on, so we’re able to build a community and network with people (who) are interested in that and ready to push themselves to learn more.””

    Though most of the fire dancers performing with Elemental Artistry are professionals, “”we have students who, once they’ve reached a certain level and … they’re ready to get out there (and start performing), we’re able to integrate them in too,”” Larson said.

    Elemental Artistry holds regular classes for anyone in the community fascinated by flames. “”It’s something they can do,”” Larson said. “”The risk of injury is very, very low as long as you’re practicing what you’ve learned, are safe with fuels (and are) paying attention.””

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