Great balls of fire

Bryan Cameron

Photo By Larry Dalton

Chances are, that guy you’ve seen swinging two burning orbs around himself is Bryan Cameron. And those in the know don’t call it “swinging two burning orbs.” Rather, it’s poi, a native custom that originated in a hemisphere far, far away and that rhymes with joy, decoy and hoi polloi. Cameron, a 27-year-old photography student at Sacramento City College, recently moved here with his poi sticks from San Francisco, where everyone’s into performing with fire. Still, Cameron managed to hook up with a few fire performers in Sacramento. They call themselves Sac Town Pyros (online at And since the cops kicked him out of the park he practiced at, he’s found a better place to practice. Cameron and the Sac Town Pyros will perform at Sol Ceramica Clay Studio, 1001 Del Paso Boulevard, on April 10 at 7:30 p.m.

What’s this poi?

Poi is a Pacific Islander tradition, often attributed to the Maoris of New Zealand, in which you incorporate dance and fire utensils. The actual poi is a ball or piece that you light on fire attached to a chain. There’s usually two of them, one in each hand.

Sounds dangerous.

Well, anytime you are using fire in close proximity to skin, yes, you have a chance of getting injured. Now, we take precautions in terms of having fire extinguishers, wet blankets and fire-safety people whenever we spin.

Had any accidents?

Have I? No. I’ve never met anybody who’s ever been burned—severely. I’ve lost hairs here and there, but hair grows back. It’s all a matter of how cautious you are, and if you have the right precautions, you’ll be OK.

You got into this how?

I actually got introduced to it a couple years ago at the Burning Man festival, which is actually a Mecca for fire performers. And one of the things that they have every year is called the fire conclave, on the night they actually burn the man. We had 900 fire performers performing around the man that night. And you don’t always have to do it with fire. You can use tennis balls or any weighted material at the end of a chain.

So, why do it with fire?

I think for the performance aspect. It’s also a very mental process, as well. When you’re doing these moves, it takes a lot of concentration—mind over body. It’s really tough. I’ve noticed that actively doing these physical things helps mentally, as well, because of the whole left-brain, right-brain kind of thing. And when you have your right hand doing one thing and your left hand doing something completely different, your whole brain has to be working. A lot of other people do it because they say it’s a very spiritual thing, and I think it’s very spiritual, as well—along the same lines as yoga, where you’re contorting your body into different positions, but you’re reaching a spiritual kind of mental state, as well.

You’re part of a group?

I’m originally from San Francisco, and I joined a troupe there called Future Trybe, but now that I’ve moved up here to Sacramento, we have a group called the Sac Town Pyros. We’re a community. We meet, we practice together, we teach each other moves. There’s hundreds of moves you can learn. Within our group, we have various fire performers—fire breathers, fire fan dancers. There’s a number of performers in our group. It’s not just poi.

Where do you practice?

We used to practice at Eighth and P streets. There’s a park down there, but the cops kicked us out. So, we now practice on Paradise Beach, a little place along the river by [California State University, Sacramento].

What kind of reaction do you get?

I spun in front of my grandfather the other night, and for my grandpa and the old-schoolers, they think it’s kind of weird. They like it, but they have these kind of inhibitions that say, “Maybe I shouldn’t like it.” The younger generation, my generation, they love it. I’ve never met a single person who’s seen it who didn’t think it was one of the most beautiful things they’ve ever seen. And, of course, not everything is for everybody. But my family seems to really like it.

Do you have a performance background?

Actually, somewhat on the technology side. I’m kind of a geek, I guess. I used to be in software, doing marketing for a software company. And [poi] is huge in San Francisco. There’s hundreds of fire performers. And these days, people up here in Sacramento, like Gallery Horse Cow, are actually hiring people to come perform.

What’s so interesting about this?

For those who haven’t seen it, it’s actually an amazing thing to watch. It’s both very visual and very audible, as well. The sound of the fire is actually one of the first things that people always tell me about. They say, "Wow! It sounds crazy!" And for us as performers, we have these balls of flame coming within inches of our ears, and the sound of that is very exhilarating and very different.