Dips,twirls and flaming torches
BY LENISE WILLIS
Castle MCulloch’s Summer Carnevale brings to the Triad all the splendor, excitement — and even the bizarreness — of Mardi Gras. The normally classy castle grounds are filled with drag-queen competitions, bodacious vixens willing to spank for a buck, acrobats, fire dancers and more. Following in the name of extreme are two fiery performers who bring the same edge to their fire-dancing and acrobatic balancing acts.
Always pushing the limits, Kara Chambers, 29, and Jacob Felder, 55, together as Exuro Entertainment, have brought innovation and excitement to their art forms.
Chambers, a stilt walker and belly dancer, and Felder, a master of robotic mime, were two performers who participated in Carnevale’s great exhibition of art. And though their individual talents earn the right to be marveled at, their greatest act — outside the castle walls — is their fire-dancing duo, which mixes the danger and thrill of fire with the beauty and grace of ballroom dancing and acrobatic balancing.
“[We’re] the difference between fire handlers and fire dancers,” Felder said.
“We bring a lot of emotion and feeling to our dance form, as well as build different props and things that may add to the danger, excitement or romance or whatever we’re trying to portray,” Chambers added.“I think what really makes us unique is that we play off of our duo choreography and create a fusion of dance forms.”
Their partnership has been ongoing for five years, their friendship for seven. But before then, both were local street performers in Winston-Salem. Felder says when he saw Chambers and her partner performing their fire act, he thought that they could create a great partnership and an act that was different from anybody else’s.
Felder brought to the table his experience as a yoga instructor, choreographer and professional dancer in swing, ballroom, Latin rhythms and acrobatic balance. Chambers brought her experience in fire performing, bellydancing, go-go dancing and cabaret. They both contributed their love of dance.
“Dance in general, even though I’m not formally trained, is my biggest passion,” Chambers said. “And then you add the excitement of the extreme — the extreme sport of fire — and just the primal energy, primal aspect of it and the element of intensity — that’s what drove me to it.”
“I was kind of a tomboy,” Chambers continued while talking about her childhood. “I did BMX racing and I played volleyball and basketball and about every sport there was. I even wrestled in middle school. I was never interested in dance or gymnastics, which is kind of interesting since now it’s my biggest passion.”
Once the two agreed to work together there was still a lot of work to be done.
“In the beginning I just had to figure out what dance moves, such as dips and lifts, could be done without the fire fans touching either of us,” Felder said. “All choreography was ironed out prior to firing up. We still use the same precautions with any new duo fire choreographies that we create.
“As for me being close to the fire the first time, it was a lot hotter than I expected, but it didn’t scare me or anything like that. I just kept moving through our choreography.”
Felder also had to become accustomed to the amount and different types of fuel used for various performances. Some fuels burn slower than others and so warrant better properties for different acts. The fuel used for fire breathing is a different mixture than what is used for fire dancing, and so forth.
“You have to know the properties of fuel,” Felder said. He also was very adamant about keeping their mixtures a secret so as not to promote any at-home trials.
The result of their choreography and fire know-how are numerous fire acts, in which they not only practice fire eating and breathing and perform with the traditional fire hoop, poi (balls on a chain), fans and wands, but they also do close partner work with fire. The duo practice the lifts and dips found in ballroom dancing and acrobatic balancing, all while maneuvering around their handheld flaming torches.
Of course, hammering out the choreography is not the only task that had to be mastered. A great performance for Felder and Chambers is one that not only wows and captures their audience, but one that does not result in any physical injury.
Not only are both insured for their profession, they also remain on guard at all times. Felder says that they have to remember to be humble, because it’s usually the easiest acts where slip-ups occur. Although, thankfully, Chambers assures that neither herself nor Felder have received any serious injuries from their performances.
“I always tell people if you play with fire you will get burned,” Chambers said. “We’ve had fire kisses here and there, but never a serious burn that we’ve had to seek medical treatment for. We always perform with a safety, someone that we trust that’s trained through us. We have a vocabulary that we use so we can handle it quickly.”
In addition to practicing and performing with a safety, the duo also has at least water, a fire extinguisher or fire-retardant blankets on hand whenever they light up for an act. Another safety precaution they practice is being honest with one another and communicating effectively.
“There’s definitely a huge element of trust and along with that dedication we’re honest with each other about where we are with our energy on any day that we practice,” Chambers said. “And being able to tune in to each other… there’s a lot of non-verbal communication [as well as verbal] that we have.”
Though Felder and Chambers have their own bread-and-butter day jobs — she runs a home-cleaning business and he’s a carpenter for area theaters — they still find time to meet twice a week to practice, in which they begin with 60 poses of partner yoga. “That kind of warms our bodies up, gets our flexibility and heart going and kind of centers us so that we can go into our practice,” Chambers said.
Their act has taken them to many places across the country and the Triad, including children’s picnics, events with the Greensboro Symphony, clubs and art openings, and even wedding receptions. “That’s one of my favorite things — things that are maybe a one-time event for someone else that you know you’re adding a real spark to their special day,” Chambers said.
While performing in all of these venues, whether on the street or amidst the chaos of Castle Carnevale, Chambers says it’s important for her and Felder to be aware of their audience and surroundings.
“I would say there are some parts of [Carnevale] that have dangerous aspects or special considerations,” Chambers admits. “But any performer needs to be able to cater to the audience their around [no matter where they are].
“If there are children when I’m at a street festival, as a stilter, I have to be very careful because children can get very excited and run up behind you, and you don’t know they’re there. Or same thing with being in a club environment, and someone’s intoxicated and maybe leaning toward you.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a family-friendly environment or an adult environment, you as a performer just cater to it.
“You always have a peripheral sense.
People also say really funny things and they don’t know that Jacob and I can hear.”
Beyond their success as both street performers and as Exuro Entertainment, both have other bragging rights as well. In May, Chambers received her bachelor’s degree in Studio Art from Salem College. And Felder, a master of yoga and meditation for more than 40 years, has produced his own set of instructional DVDs on the practice of gentle yoga and partner yoga.