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Sarasota Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021 2 months ago

Playing With Fire

Abbigale Young and Marko Perkins are a pair of dedicated fire performers in Sarasota.
by: Harry Sayer Staff Writer

Sarasota resident Abbigale Young has a mundane day job selling life insurance. 

Each day she wakes up, calls clients from the comfort of her home and pitches them on buying. It’s solid, steady work, but Young admits it can be a tad on the quiet side.

Her nights lately have been different. Every person needs excitement, and Young has found it in fire. Plenty of people dance, but not as many have learned to dance and do tricks surrounded by flames. Each week, the 27-year-old picks up her hula hoop, drives to meet friends, sets her instrument aflame and dances in the dark.

Young is one of many fire spinners in Sarasota County, part of a small but enduring group that looks to dazzle and delight through fire performances. She says fire performing is a hobby, a job, and an obsession all at the same time. 

It’s been eight years since Young started performing, and she’s changed a lot since those days. Young says she was shy and lacking confidence. She feels getting into hula-hoop dancing, and then fire performing, is what’s made her the person she is today.

“I saw a girl (hula hooping) on the beach seven years ago and she was so beautiful and looked so confident and I needed a confidence boost also,” Young said. “… I decided to just pick up something new and try it.”

She dove into hula-hooping and spent a couple years honing her skills before feeling she was ready to add fire to the mix. 

 Young says she still remembers the fear she felt the first time she started dancing with the flames, and the roaring sound they made around her — she says it felt like being inside a burning tornado. 

“You cannot stop moving,” Young said. “You can't stall. It's not like, ‘Oh, I need to sit here and figure out this trick.’ Even if it's doing the same repetitive stuff until you can work other things in your routine, just keep freaking moving.”

Abbigale Young performs with friends and at local venues and weddings.

Marko Perkins, a 26-year-old fellow fire performer and Young’s roommate, discovered the craft at a college party. He remembers feeling invigorated by the flames and envious of the performer who could dance with them. 

He says he’s always admired fire, as it’s one of the most pure elements we have in the world. He picked up a dragon staff prop instrument and learned to dance with fire in his own way. 

“When I’m really feeling it, nothing else matters,” Perkins said. “It's me, the staff and the music … the fire creates a trail around me.” 

Perkins practices with Young at their home and also organizes get-togethers for fire performers around Sarasota. 

Some performers are flowy, and some are more technical. Perkins says he has a tribal, almost martial arts-type flow while Young prefers dangerous stunts — technical moves that bring the fire closer to her face that she hopes will make the crowd gasp. 

She’s been practicing a move recently where she balances the burning hula hoop on her nose. She started with the hoop, but has since learned to perform with other props including the dragon staff, fans and more. The only way to get better, in her eyes, is constantly practicing. 

Safety is key, and Perkins and Young take it seriously. They always have another performer nearby holding a fire blanket to throw over them in case one of them catches fire during a performance, and they light their props with vapor-based white gas and kerosene that won’t adhere to the skin.

But burns are inevitable. Playing with fire has led to Young and Perkins getting burned many a time, and they have the marks on their bodies to prove it. Young swears it’s not as painful as people imagine — usually more like getting a sunburn — and that the only way to play in this sport is to push through the fear or pain of fire. 

Fire spinning started as a hobby, but has become something of a second job for Young. Over the years she’s been paid to travel across the state and perform at weddings, special events and several festivals, something that thrills her to no end. She hopes she’ll be able to perform outside of the state at new festivals when the pandemic is through.

The fire spinning hobby has only grown since she and Perkins started. Young says what once was a more disparate collection of fire spinners has become a greater community of 50 to 100 performers across Florida in the last handful of years. With that boom has come innovation, with new tricks and techniques being invented constantly. 

“We're all individual people, we just share a common hobby,” Young said. “... We're go getters. We're constantly building and learning and wanting to push forward on our sport.”

Harry Sayer is the Black Tie Reporter for the Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida and previously worked the Black Tie beat for the Observer newspaper in Winter Park and Maitland. You can catch him at one of Sarasota's fundraisers and shindigs. 

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