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click to enlarge BRUCE ELLIOTT

Every once in a while, even civil engineers need to cut loose. Ken Armfield, a 41-year-old Longmont resident, stowed away his pocket protector last weekend to dance with fire in Colorado Springs.

"At a primal level," he said, "you know you're near the fire, so it heightens your sensation."

Armfield performed his fire dance on Kiowa Street in front of the City Auditorium, part of the Art Wars II charity art show and festival. He dipped his cloth-tipped metal chains in fuel, set them aglow and flailed them around his skinny body in flaming arcs while electronic music pulsated in the background.

"I can go into a zone or a groove, and the art comes out," he said of the trance the fire dance ignites within him. "It's my personal, weird hobby and creative expression."

Armfield was first turned on to fire dancing four years ago while attending Burning Man, the radical creativity festival in the Nevada desert. He was instantly captured by the fire twirlers he saw there and has subsequently researched twirling considered a dance generally to have been started by the Maori tribes of New Zealand.

"Art in general is to help people tap into something primal, transcendent, artistic or spiritual," he said.

As for the risks associated with flinging fire, Armfield said he and his friends vigilantly watch out for the audience, the venue and the performer -- in that order. Other members of the Colorado Fire Tribe, a statewide club of fire twirlers, were on hand with towels to ensure Armfield's dance didn't take a dangerous turn.

"This is new," he said, "and we want to keep it legal, so we're really careful to police ourselves."

--Dan Wilcock

Photo by Bruce Elliott

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