Soul Fire sets dance aflame

KAPA‘A — “Should we try it with fire?”

As the sun rises on a warm, winter morning at Lydgate Beach Park, five dancers from Soul Fire slide their fingers through the loops of their poi balls.

Except these poi balls aren’t made of cloth. Instead, they are made out of lengthy metal chains with marsh mallow-sized kevlar weights attached to the ends.

Taking turns, the dancers dip their poi balls into fuel and set them aflame.

Each dancer begins to swing the blazing balls in circular patterns around their torsos, above their heads and around their chests. The dancers manipulate the balls to spin in the same direction, then away from each other. 

Beachgoers, maintenance workers and children crane their heads to take a look at what’s happening inside the main pavilion.

None of the dancers flinch as flames whirl around their bodies or cringe at the smell of fuel. Each dancer is calm, smiling.

“You have to love fire or it won’t work,” Kaia Shine, co-owner of Soul Fire, said. “You have to have a love for movement, a love for dance and a love for fire. It’s a pretty amazing element.”

Soul Fire entered the fire scene more than a decade ago when co-owners Shine and Skylar Mallas decided to form a dance troupe that would weave music, dance, art and fire into its performances.

“I first saw a Samoan fire knife dancer 12 years ago in Vancouver, and I knew I wanted to do it,” Shine said.

Like moths, people were drawn to Soul Fire’s flame, and the troupe has successfully grown into an in-demand company, regularly performing throughout the Hawaiian islands and overseas. 

“It’s always the highlight of the show,” said Angela Babcock, who started fire dancing 11 years ago. “It could be the quietest party, but when the fire comes out, everyone lights up.”

Some of their celebrity clients include Pierce Brosnan, Ben Stiller, Ziggy Marley, Run DMC and Michael Franti, Mallas said.

The group practices for two to three hours once or twice a week, depending on whether they have a show.

While the dancing can be seen as an intense workout, the women view it as an active form of meditation.

“It’s a source of inspiration and creativity for me and offers something to people that’s life changing,” Babcock said.

Soul Fire is an all-women troupe that incorporates fire poi, staffs, double staffs, snakes, fire hula hoops, clubs, bowls, fire fingers, fans, crowns, wings and fire blowing into its routines.

“It’s cool because it’s quite different from traditional Samoan knife dancing, which is cool in its own right, but we have the feminine goddess aspect to it,” Shine said.

Mallas and Shine choreograph the performances set to original music mixes. Their routines range from Hawaiiana to Cirque-inspired performances, from white wedding to an Asian Fusion show.

The women find inspiration by watching videos of other artists. They learn how to watch fire, how it moves.

“It’s a sacred geometry,” Shine said.

The group will be performing Feb. 11 during a benefit for Heart for Horses, a nonprofit organization that takes care of neglected horses and hunting dogs.

The fundraiser is from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Kaua‘i Reserve Ranch, located at mile marker 20 off Kuhio Highway in Kilauea. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Members of Soul Fire also perform at Lu‘au Kalamaku on Tuesday and Friday evenings at Kilohana, where they originated their roles and created their costumes.

For more information about Soul Fire, visit www.soulfiredance.com or call 639-8205.

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