Burlington Burn Club Lights Up the Night With Flames

Group members expect more opportunities to showcase their fire artistry now that outdoor concerts and fairs will be resuming

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As COVID-19 vaccination rates rise, the return of in-person events like large outdoor concerts, festivals, fairs and celebrations is good news for an arts group in Vermont’s largest city.

The Burlington Burn Club is working to spread knowledge among performers and promote an eye-catching form of artistry that falls into that category of “don’t try this at home.”

The club’s participants use flaming batons, hula hoops with wicks built into the ring, metal fans and more to manipulate fire in free-flowing and captivating body movements.

“I always describe it as ‘meditative,’” the club’s Dylan Kunkel said.

The Burlington Burn Club uses Battery Park, with city approval, to reach people interested in an ancient yet growing segment of what are known as the “flow arts”— a blend of movement and prop-play.

The 2018 Fire and Art Festa in Gangneung, South Korea, brought some fire performers to the beaches of Gangneung outside the Olympic Park. Check out some incredible fire dances in slow motion.

“You always have someone watching you to make sure you don’t accidentally light yourself on fire,” noted frequent participant Ethan Fontneau, referring to spotters who are armed with special blankets that could quickly extinguish an problem.

Fontneau said the group offered an outlet he really needed during the pandemic, when he couldn’t dance with friends at nightclubs as he loves to do.

“It’s been really refreshing to at least be able to come to Burn Club and get somewhat of a ‘go out and dance’ experience,” Fontneau said.

With COVID-19 vaccines now sparking optimism for music festivals and big parties again, meaning opportunities for performers to land paid bookings, Kunkel said it is vital to keep skill levels sharp.

“The more acts, the more gigs, the more performers you’ll see on street corners or at restaurants or anywhere,” Kunkel predicted. “It’s really about spreading the arts.”

The Burn Club is clear its twice-monthly get-togethers are not shows. Kunkel said they’re really more like jam sessions to workshop techniques, to share knowledge about safety and gear and to build community between professional artists and hobbyists who are just starting out.

Still, curious onlookers in the park can’t help but watch. 

“It’s intense,” said Tulsi Wright, who was watching some of Thursday night’s meeting. “I think it’s amazing that people can play with such a dangerous element and do it safely — and in a way that becomes an art for people.”

As it stokes the embers of creativity, the Burlington Burn Club aims to build more platforms for self-expression, inspiring awe, one free-flowing motion at a time.

“It’s exercise for your brain and your body,” said flow artist Maple Steen, who regularly joins the Burn Club sessions.

The Burlington Burn Club meets on the first and third Thursday of the month in Battery Park, starting at 7 p.m. Kunkel said newcomers are welcome, since community-building is a primary goal. Check out the group on Instagram to learn more.

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