Playing with fire: UA student shares hobby with campus through Flow Cats club
The smell of fuel hangs in the air as a crackling blaze illuminates the pitch-black Tucson night.
Two students stand among the flames, but they don’t pull away. After all, they’re the ones holding the fire.
Nic Wolf, an undeclared sophomore, weaves poi effortlessly around his body while a friend stands nearby with a wet towel in case of an emergency. The fire poi, tethered weights doused in white gas and lamp oil lit aflame, spin behind his back and over his head in time to music playing on a mini stereo, leaving trails of heat in their wake.
Although he seems like a professional fire dancer, Wolf has only been spinning fire for a little more than a year, after seeing fire dancing at a music festival. The show stuck with him, and much of what Wolf knows now, he taught himself.
Kyle Mittan/ The Daily Wildcat Undeclared sophomore and Flow Cats President Nic Wolf holds a pair of fire spinning poi during the club's practice on Tuesday night.
“I’ve never really fallen in love with a hobby before,” Wolf said. “This was the first thing that really grabbed me. Just having something that I’m really able to devote all of my attention to is a really awesome experience for me.”
Wolf’s love for “flow arts” — the exploration of movement through prop manipulation — led him to start the Flow Cats club on campus in August with fellow UA students Jacob Aragon and Maddy Hollis. Members can use hoops, poi and similar objects to achieve a state of mind that Wolf refers to as “flow.”
A year and a half ago, Hollis, a psychology sophomore, started practicing with store-bought hula hoops. She then made hoops herself, using different taping on them for gripping. Then, once she had enough money, she moved on to light-up hoops. Eventually, when her skill level progresses, she said she hopes to buy a fire hoop.
“It’s something that once you start doing it, you fall in love with it,” Hollis said. “Practice is definitely something I look forward to going to every week. It has a really wonderful atmosphere. Everyone is there to help you out and be with one another and enjoy the art of flowing in a group setting.”
The club, which started with three people, has since increased to more than a dozen, most of whom joined after watching Wolf and his friends practice on the UA Mall. The group is not allowed to spin with fire on the Mall, but they use objects that light up and attract people each time.
“I just saw them flowing one night and I was like, ‘I flow, you flow,’” said Cooper Montgomery, a member of Flow Cats and a freshman at Pima Community College. “I saw them on the Mall and started spinning with them.”
Now, club members are working on getting a fire permit to host community events. Wolf has communicated with the Associated Students of the University of Arizona and is waiting to get in contact with someone at the Department of Risk Management Services. The group is also in touch with the fire department.
Herb Wagner, the UA Fire Marshal and the director of occupational and environmental health and safety, said a few years back a group of students was allowed to conduct practices and hold performances with fire on campus. Wagner said the group was required to go through fire safety training and fire extinguisher training.
Risk Management staff also had the to authority to examine and inspect all of the equipment and storage of flammable liquids and could decide which events to approve. He said it is possible for Flow Cats to get approved, although he hasn’t heard of the club as of yet.
Despite the lengthy process to get approval, Aragon, a biology sophomore and club treasurer, said fire spinning is not dangerous as long as the performers are responsible. Whenever club members practice, spotters are on standby with wet towels to warn spinners of errant flames.
“As long as you’re being diligent about it and paying attention to it, it’s not that dangerous,” Aragon said. “I hit Nic’s head once … but it didn’t catch on fire or anything.”
For Wolf, his hobby is all-consuming. Wherever he goes, his pair of poi is close by, waiting for him to find a new location. Geometrical sketches illustrating the different paths that the poi can travel along litter the pages of his notebook.
Regardless of whether the club ever receives permission to spin fire on campus, Wolf said he plans to continue spinning for a long time to come.
“I would be really sad if I wasn’t able to do this anymore,” Wolf said. “That’s one of the worst things I could imagine ever happening to me.”
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