Playing with Fire

By Denise DePaolo

Images by Elizabeth Lucille Photography

It’s inexplicable, yet undeniable. People are drawn to fire. Whether it’s the primal need for warmth or a desire for kinship on a weekend night, we feel inherently comforted by flames. And it’s that ethos that members of Last Ember Entertainment seek to embody in their performances.

Last Ember is comprised of eight fire spinners with wide-ranging specialties. Individual members have been working at their craft for anywhere between two and eight years. Founding member Shawn Knudson says he was painfully shy before giving it a try at a friend’s house. It became a fascination and an outlet for him. When he moved back to Sioux Falls from Denver in 2010, he began connecting with others interested in fire spinning. On weekends, he would pull out his fire “poi” when friends were gathered in backyards. Slowly, more and more of his circle took up the hobby, which pushed him to grow his skillset.

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“People had been telling me I should be getting paid for this,” said Knudson. “And finally, I feel I can hang with the big dogs, after attending multiple festivals and watching people I admire online. I can finally keep up with these guys. It’s time to step up.”

The first step was to shoot videos. Knudson and the other members of Last Ember displayed skills including staff spinning, hula hoop, and various poi (the chains with various flaming accouterments one spins). The videos were posted to YouTube under Last Ember Entertainment, and a Facebook page was started.

Maria Angeline Martin started spinning two years ago. She and fiance Dalton Mayo find the practice meditative. If they’ve had a bad day, or just need to clear their minds, they pull out their poi. Martin says it’s the same for the other members of Last Ember, as well.

“We’re honestly a bunch of tree huggers,” she said, laughing. “Originally it was a backyard thing, now it’s a tribe. We always look for other people to join as long as they’re loving and have a passion for fire.”

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Read the full article in the January issue or click here.