Playing with fire
Juggling flaming sticks and hoops is all in a day’s work for Koh Samet’s fire dancers
AS Jyothy, the photographer, and I ambled along the shore, I became aware of a young Filipino chap approaching us. He was lean, sinewy and with more than a cheerful glint in his eye, and the brown skin on his exposed arms glistened in the fading light. “Hello ladies. We having fun in Thailand?” he asked in a surprisingly crisp British accent, his small eyes narrowing to slits. “Yes,” we chorused nervously, weary of the ‘hospitality’ some oily-skinned locals had offered us earlier. “Come have a bite and stay for the fire show. I’m in it,” he winked. Despite myself, I asked him curiously, “Really? You’re a fire dancer?”
Mr Tee, as he calls himself, has been a professional fire dancer for the last six years. Did he undergo years of training under a master to learn this death-defying dance form? “Nah, I used YouTube,” he said. Mr Tee spent hours watching clips on the video-sharing website, learning the tricks of the trade and practising with unlit sticks at home. Many hours of video-watching and a couple of books on fire dancing later, he was ready to try out the real deal. Using flaming sticks and hoops, he began to practise. Needless to say, he burned himself. Many times. But he forged ahead, slathering himself with cream to avoid the burns (that explains the glistening skin), and soon, he was throwing fiery sticks and hoops about his body like a pro.
Mr Tee and his A-team of 12 dancers perform at the Ploy Bar on Sai Kaew, Koh Samet, every night to a whooping, cheering audience. He also used to perform at the wildly popular Full Moon Party on Thailand’s crescent-shaped Koh Pha Ngan island. “But the crowds overwhelmed me, so I moved to Koh Samet. It only gets crowded here in the busy season and on weekends. That’s not so bad. I get to meet a lot of new people, many from the UK,“ he said, which explains the accent.
Rings of light swirl through the inky black sky as the dancers twirl whatever it is they’ve chosen to set alight – balls of fire attached to chains, flaming rods or hula-hoops. Their antics are met with squeals of delight, especially when the youngest dancer comes out. Barely older than 10, he struts his stuff, while his fellow dancers spit flames around him. They lap up the attention. Who wouldn’t? Women giggle when they walk past and men look at them with awe. For those 20 minutes every night, they’re rock stars, and they know it.
LPMI’s Features Writer Sharmeen Hussain was in Thailand on assignment and fell instantly in love with the country.