Kristy Fortes, fire spinner
Kristy Fortes is a lot of things; a fire spinner, a woman of color, a state worker, a flow artist, a member of a huge Mexican-American family and maybe even a trailblazer of sorts. She is also unequivocally joyful. As she locked her bike up outside Revolution Wines, she was wrapped in a winter coat and knit scarf, tempting the phrase “bundle of joy.” Though she is decidedly less bundled when she dances with Julie Arenz and Shiree Rezendes of the Sacramento performance group Infinite Spin, her joy de vivre only swells in the presence of a hula hoop. Over a glass of chenin blanc, she told us why.
Infinite Spin is comprised of three distinctly different girls. How do you fit together as performers?
I bring a certain untamed, unchoreographed dance and flow. And then Julie is like the brains of the operation. She taught me how to count and she knows how to block people and choreograph. She was a band major in high school so she has all of this intricate knowledge of how to make everything look really good and how to make things flow and give us variation in our choreography. And Shiree is just the epitome of grace. She brings this beauty. She’ll take moves that will just flow out of me and she’ll make them big and beautiful and make them more like a performance move and something that will appeal to the audience and make them feel.
What do you wish the public knew about fire spinning?
[It’s] really hard for us to continue doing what we’re doing and to share this love without being compensated because it takes a lot of time to choreograph this stuff. It takes a lot of money to buy fuel to dip all this stuff. It takes a whole team of people behind us to help us with [safety] and help us with carrying things around. And it takes paying for props. So I think in general as an artist it takes people understanding why we’re asking for compensation.
Speaking of props, what’s your favorite prop to date?
Our favorite and kind of like the biggest, most meaningful prop [Lee Snow] made for us was the fire wings which were made for Burning Man. And they are giant, 12-foot wingspan fire wings. There are four sets in existence.
It seems like fire spinners tend to be predominantly white and you’re a woman of color. How has that been for you?
I think the worst part is that internally there’s a lot of anxieties or insecurities. So if I’m in a place that is either new to me or I’m surrounded by very talented spinners, like I am all the time, I just kind of question things sometimes, like, “Oh, I’m the only person of color here. Why is that? Do I belong here? Does anyone else notice? Are they not going to accept me?” … Sometimes when I get those insecurities I feel like it’s not valid to feel that way because my struggles aren’t any worse than anybody else’s struggles. Maybe they’re different and maybe a white person never has to worry about feeling like the only white person in the room but that’s not like a huge challenge. Sometimes I wonder, “Is this really a valid thing to think about or discuss?”
What conclusions have you come to around that?
I love that the diversity in this group is really changing and you know if anybody of color ever felt unwelcome I wouldn’t want that. I wouldn’t want anybody to feel isolated in that because I felt it and I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that isolation alone. So it’s like, maybe it’s not a valid concern to have but we still have it anyway so maybe it is worth discussing because we have it.
Are there specific ways in which your heritage has shaped your spinning?
I have a different style of dancing that comes from being Latin American and listening to a lot of salsas and cumbias and Mexican music growing up. There aren’t a lot of people that naturally dance the way I do.
Have you made any connections with other people of color in the fire spinning community?
The first time I saw Deaja, Girl on Fire, dance I fell head-over-heels in love with her. I was like, “She dances like me!” I just connected so hard with her. … She included me in a lot of things and I just felt like if somebody of her status—she’s such an amazing performer and well-known in the community—welcomed me in I felt like maybe I do belong here and like if she can do it I can do it. So it was really cool to have her as an inspiring role model and now friend, somebody who I perform alongside with who appreciates my talent and my uniqueness. Having somebody of color to get you jump-started in this community is really helpful and if I could be that for somebody else, I would be happier than I am now, which is going to be hard because I’m super-happy.