(St.Joseph,MO) A group of local performers is bringing the traditions of poi to St.Joseph, but with a unique twist. The fire performers of Pyro Tribe have been lighting up Coleman Hawkins Park and the Civic Arena during their most recent performances.
Founding member Mike Kuhel said he first saw fire dancers while on vacation in Hawaii.
“I went to Hawaii when I was 16 and I saw at the cultural center, the Mauery Tribe,” Kuhel said. “They had the fire twirlers there and I was obsessed when I saw it, I was like I want to do that one day.”
But Kuhel along with fellow Tribe member Ian Frost said they wouldn’t pick up a flaming set of poi for another decade.
"We were spinning just light up poi is what the props are called and one day we were like 'let's do fire' and we made our own and we didn't have any safety. It was the scariest, most sketchy thing you've ever seen," Kuhel said.
In 2013 the duo later picked up a few new members and transformed into a group of fire performers that call themselves the Pyro Tribe.
"We call it Pyro Tribe, we don't make a decision without everybody saying it. There is no one seated head on any of this, we all come together as a family,"Frost said.
Frost spins a contact staff in most of the tribes performances and Kuhel’s prop of choice is a 12 foot rope with a kevlar attached to the end. The Tribe said the performance aspect is all about bringing something unique to St. Joseph.
“There is nobody that does it here. There is no fire in this area, there is a group in Kansas City, there is a group in Omaha, Minneapolis, but there is no one here,” Kuhel said.“That’s why we said let’s do it, let’s bring art to the city, let’s do something different.”
Kuhel said the tribe has a free ‘Moonday’ performances on the Monday closest to each full moon of the month.
“It’s more about bringing art to the community. At our Moonday, if we get tips we usually put those in a pot and we’ll give it to charity,it’s just for us to [give back to] the community,” Kuhel said. “Then three times a year we do a big show that re-amps us to give us money for fuel and new props.”
The dances tend to bring in a crowd, but the performers take extra precautions to keep themselves and their audience safe.
“The space that we’re in is something we definitely have to be conscious about because, obviously this is fire. This is something that will burn something down, it’s something that can hurt people,” Frost said. "Part of the process of learning this is understanding your space and controlling one of the most volatile elements on the planet."
Even with precautions in place, Tribe members aren't strangers to injury.
"I was doing what is called a butterfly with my poi and I lost my footing and they actually wrapped around my wrists. We always have a safety with us that is watching with a damp towel and we have a fire extinguishers all that, but I had second degree burns on my wrist," Kuhel said.
Performance burns aside, the group is stoked to share their talents with the city.
“This is something we are doing basically for ourselves. There is no real intention to gain money or fame or any of this off of it. It’s just something we are going to do regardless, because we love it, so why not share it with the people," Frost said.
The next Moonday performance is slated for late August at a location yet to be determined.