Dancing Fire Ferrets
At 10 years old, Reddawolf Rayne was dreaming of fire.
She could see the flames swirl and fly around her, wrapping her arms in blazing glory, spinning bright streamers into the night as she danced within them. At her 11th birthday, her dreams sparked into reality. Reddawolf danced with the flame. And her mother beamed with pride.
“Redda got her first set of fire sticks on her birthday,” said Raiven Rayne, Redda’s mother and the leader of the Dancing Fire Ferrets of Edmond. “She lit them up that night. All she wants to do is play with fire, but she respects it. She’s careful with it. People are shocked when they learn about it, but she’s learned the skill responsibly.” The art form is known as fire poi, the Dancing Fire Ferrets are a ragtag team of blazing personalities with names just as strange. In fact, Reddawolf, now 13, and her sister Alexis, 16, are Oklahoma’s youngest fire poi performers. The sisters, along with their mother, uncle, father and close friends, are members of a performance dance troupe that specializes in the spinning, flipping, choreographing and dancing with fire.
Poi is a type of performing art that uses equipment by the same name. Poi involves swinging tethered weights through a variety of rhythmical and geometric patterns, and those who master poi also sing or dance while swinging their poi.
The art originated with the Māori people of New Zealand, and globally, the growing popularity of poi culture has led to a boom in the styles practiced, the tools used and the definition of the word “poi.” Fire poi simply means those tools are blazing with flames while the performers spin their magic and dance within it.
The Dancing Fire Ferrets are made up of mother Raiven and her two daughters, Raiven’s husband Sean Tiulli, Arder Fuego (which translates literally to “to burn the flame”), Raiven’s little brother Moku the Ninja and Rafe Knight.
The dance troupe creates beauty with music and burning light. “Basically, we play with fire and dance with fire and fight with fire and breathe fire,” Raiven said. “Fire is a very spiritual element for us. It is beauty.”
The Fire Ferret’s dream started three years ago at an event by the Society for Creative Anachronism, which recreates the Middle Ages. Arder saw another group performing fire poi, and the bug bit. “Arder had done it since he was 14, so it was easy for him to pick up a set and start dancing with it,” said Raiven. “We were all there and thought it was neat.”
Globally, people have worshipped fire and performed with fire for centuries. In New Zealand, the Māori people are credited with creating the art of poi and used the dance as a form of storytelling. Ancient Aztecs performed ritualistic dances with fire to appease Xiuhtecuhtli, the God of Fire. In Hawaii, the Samoan people use a flaming machete to perform a dance known as Ailao. In Edmond, the Dancing Fire Ferrets do their own stylistic performances.
A Family that Flames Together Stays Together
Once Arder started the poi craze, the other members of the Ferrets caught on quickly. Raiven and Rafe got a set and started working on them. Redda had to practice for an hour a day every day for two months with regular practice poi before she was allowed to move into fire. Sean Tiulli was the last to come on board. “I didn’t want anything to do with it. I refused,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m not going to get burned.’ Then one day I’m walking around looking for devil sticks (hand sticks used for juggling another stick), and I found the poi sticks. I was hooked.”
Although he was slow to embrace fire, once Sean was in, he was in all the way. He began practicing daily to perfect the devil sticks. He ordered a fire version of the sticks, and during his first try, he didn’t burn himself—only singed his arm hair a little bit. “He got the fire bug,” said Raiven. “Once you get started performing with fire, it’s like an addiction. Everything you see, every song you hear, you keep thinking ‘I can dance to that.’”
When Raiven’s oldest daughter Alexis moved back to Edmond, she saw her family perform for the first time at a party where they’d been hired as the entertainment. That sultry May night, the fire bug bit her too, and Alexis became the newest member of the Dancing Fire Ferrets.
The Fire Show
Watching the Dancing Fire Ferrets is like watching something alien and magical. Their bodies blend into the night so only the long, swaying flames are really visible. The music—ranging from Medieval tunes to pounding techno punk—throbs with the flames, and audiences are mesmerized. The Dancing Fire Ferrets perform at events, fairs and private parties. Everywhere they dance, they inspire new followers and fire dreamers. At each venue, they sell out of practice poi every night.
But the dance takes practice—and bravery. “My oldest, Alexis, does a move where she drops into the splits, spins the burning poi around her wrists, holds the poi ball in her hands and then jumps up and releases them,” said Raiven. “She’s never been burned badly, but every single one of us have very short hair—because you singe your hair a lot.” Safety and protection are stressed. Besides basic fire safety tools like wet towels and extinguishers, Raiven always has a special burn first aid kit wherever she goes. “I wouldn’t recommend lighting anything on fire, especially poi, for at least six months,” she said. “This takes a lot of practice. You do get burned sometimes. You have to respect the fire and know what you are doing.”
“Some families have movie night or game night. We spin fire,” Raiven said. “It’s something we do together as a family, and it’s something we all enjoy.”
For more information about the Dancing Fire Ferrets or to book a show, contact Raiven Rayne at 405-698-4927 or find them on Facebook at the Dancing Fire Ferrets.