Toronto

Meet Toronto fire dancer, Scarlet Black

Scarlet Black is a professional fire and circus dancer. Her passion for dancing with fire has allowed her to dazzle and connect with people across North America. She's performing today, Oct. 12, at Devilish Desires — Oddity & Horror Expo.

Passion and safety allow Scarlet Black to connect with audiences through fire

Scarlet Black is a professional fire and circus dancer from Toronto. She will be performing at Devilish Desires — Oddity & Horror Expo on Oct. 12. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

In a dark studio in Toronto, the only source of light comes from the fire that's being whipped through the air. A woman is spinning two fire poi, lit Kevlar balls attached to chains, mere inches away from her face. She smiles as the flames lick the air in front of her.

"Everybody loves the buzzsaw move," she said.

Scarlet Black is a professional fire and circus dancer.

She has 10 years of experience performing with fire. Her list of venues is vast with hundreds throughout Canada and the United States. She's particularly busy throughout the Halloween season with performances at Casa Loma and this weekend's Devilish Desires — Oddity & Horror Expo. 

Locally, she's also performed at Nuit Blanche, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and the Opera House, where her dances include fire props such as hula hoops, fans, poi, and headdress.

'It frightens me a little bit'

Her motivation for working with fire is simple.

"I love it because it frightens me a little bit," she told CBC Toronto, sitting outside Dispatch Talent studio where she rents space to practise her performances. 

Fire wasn't always on Black's radar. After trying to break into acting but being told she didn't meet certain criteria, she picked up an office job. It wasn't until being introduced to fire dancing through the Red Pepper Spectacle Arts community organization that her true passion was ignited.

She quit the office in favour of pursuing something a little flashier.

"Regardless of who you are or where you're from, fire really draws you in," she said.

Scarlet Black dances with fire poi inside Dispatch Talent on Oct. 11, 2019. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

When she was first getting started, Black trained without fire, learning how to dance with unlit props and focusing on safety measures.

Before each show she triple checks her props, knows the layout of the performance space, has a trained fire technician on hand while she performs, and has fire blankets, wet towels, and an extinguisher at the ready. She knows that if you play with fire you're bound to get burned.

"It's not a matter of if; it's a matter of when," she said.

The risk she takes is worth it to achieve her goal of bringing people together.

Black enjoys performances tailored to specific audiences, including wedding couples and fan communities like those of Joss Whedon and Sailor Moon. 

Scarlet Black spins a fire hoop inside Dispatch Talent on Oct. 11, 2019. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

However, her favourite act to perform is a butterfly going through metamorphosis. Along with the looks of wonder that appear on children's faces, she likes it because it's accessible and highlights the experience of growth.

"I wanted an act that children or non-English speaking people could understand. And I wanted to take people on a journey," Black said.

When she's not performing with fire, Black has lead hula hoop fitness classes for adults and children through dance company Sugar Hoops. She keeps all 150 of her hula hoops in her apartment's stairwell on bike racks. 

Her advice for people interested in using props for fitness is to be confident.

"Exuding that confidence, even if you're not really feeling it, is so helpful," she said.

This weekend Black will be performing at Devilish Desires — Oddity & Horror Expo, which runs today, Oct. 12, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Poveiros Community Centre in Toronto.

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