RCC student plays with fire

by Alec Calvillo

Riverside City College student Lorenzo Vasquez started his routine by tossing a pole with two giant flames on each side in the air with assurance that he was going to catch the hazardous instrument.

Vasquez is majoring in biochemistry, but has passion for fire spinning.

It all started when Vasquez was vacationing in Hawaii and saw fire dancers performing at a luau.

“(I) thought it was the craziest thing that they were playing with fire,” Vasquez said.

Years later a friend of Vasquez asked him if he wanted to join a fire dancing group called the Polynesian Entertainment Group that performs for audiences in the Inland Empire. He was excited and didn’t hesitate to say yes.

“I always thought it was the coolest thing,” Vasquez said. “I didn’t think it was a possibility,”

He started spinning when he was only 17 and now has two years of experience under his belt.

Vasquez would practice spinning for two to three hours a day, first without fire, then with fire.

“I wanted to get good and fast, I didn’t just want to be mediocre,” Vasquez said.

There are typically four dancers in a group, two male and two female, and a DJ.

There are three tools that the fire dancers use to entertain the crowds. The first one is a fire staff that is a long pole with two wicks on the side. A fire knife is the other and it requires more skill because the flame is bigger and the staff is heavier. The other is poi, which are two fireballs being swung on each hand.

Vasquez’s favorite tool is the fire knife. It is a little more dangerous to use because the flame is larger, but for him the larger the flames the better.

“You burn yourself all the time (with a regular pole) but with a fire knife you’re going to burn yourself a lot more often because the flames climb,” Vasquez said.

There isn’t a certain way or routine that the fire dancers follow. It mostly consists of a freestyle and following along to the tempo of the music that the DJ is playing.

“Everyone should have their own style, you do whatever feels comfortable,” Vasquez said.

Now when Vasquez practices it involves a lot of research on other fire dancer’s moves. He does this so he can incorporate different moves into his routine.

One of Vasquez’s favorite tricks is nicknamed “circumcision.” He starts off twirling the fire staff close to his neck and then brings it down underneath his leg and around while in a squat position.   

The reason for such a nickname is because the fire staff ends up close to his groin area.

His father Lorenzo Vasquez Sr. was a little nervous when he first saw his son fire spin, but he saw how passionate his son was when he would see him practicing a lot.

“Most parents don’t want their kids playing with fire, but you just gotta let them be,” Vasquez Sr. said.

The first time Vasquez lit the fire staff was at one of his earlier rehearsals with the Polynesian Entertainment Group.

“You’re just spinning all slow, afraid of it hitting you. It was pretty nerve-wracking, but you just want to get better from there on,” said Vasquez.

The first performance was intense for Vasquez. He dropped the fire staff twice, but luckily four other fire dancers accompanied him so he wasn’t left solo.

One of Vasquez’s close friends Chris Sotto is also a part of the Polynesian Entertainment Group and describes him as a great entertainer.

“He has a lot of showmanship and connects with the crowd,” Sotto said.

Vasquez usually performs at birthday parties and retirement homes and hopes to perform at weddings or other special events in the near future.