Thursday, September 07, 2006

Meet Laurel

Laurel Fleury is a twenty-seven-year-old Fire Poi performance artist in Louisville, Kentucky. Fire Poi is a traditional form of juggling involving Kevlar balls that are connected to a chain, dipped into lamp oil or gasoline and set on fire. Laurel performs mostly at art happenings, birthdays and special events. Each performance last between three to five minutes and is accompanied by a song of her choice. Although it is typical for fire artists to dance to hard-core music or soft Celtic music, Laurel prefers Arabic, African or Latino music. She admits to also having a weakness for Joan Jett. Laurel's boyfriend Pete, who recently had his second open-heart surgery, is also a Fire Poi artist. They often spend time together practicing their performances in the park. A fire extinguisher is always at hand.

Laurel was immediately attracted to the craft of Fire Poi after watching a performance at a gallery hop in North Carolina a few years ago. “It was like the moment that you light a match. That’s how I felt. That little match inside of me lit up.” Laurel wanted that feeling everyday, so she moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and began to surround herself with fire artists. At first she became their safety person, which allowed her to watch and study different fire art techniques. As soon as she felt comfortable, Laurel lit up and began to practice Fire Poi on her own.

Fire has been a part of Laurel's life since she was a child. Raised by hippies, she spent the first three years of her life living in a tent in South Carolina, while her father, a carpenter, built the family home. She remembers sitting around the campfire, as her mother, also an artist, skinned and cooked the food her father had hunted in the woods. After her father finished one room of their house, they moved in and used a small camping stove in which to cook. When Laurel was four, she walked too close to the stove and her polyester nightgown lit on fire, badly burning her thigh. Although the incident caused a permanent scar, Laurel never became afraid of fire.

Pete says that Fire Poi fits Laurel's personality because she is extremely unique and different from everyone else. Laurel, like the fire, does not want to be controlled. “The flame and I have something in common. We like to just live, wiggle and breath and when we're done, we're done”, she explains. Laurel also practices telekinesis, the movement of fire with the mind. “I try to make the flames get bigger or to move a certain way, “ she explains. Because she performs Fire Poi in the dark, Laurel has to rely on her sense of balance while performing. She tries to relax, concentrate and let the music guide her movement.

Aside from performing and teaching Fire Poi, Laurel supplements her income by teaching art, designing websites, and selling her paintings, jewelry, clothing and photography. Laurel's parents, who are now divorced, have changed a considerable amount since the days of her youth. They worry and flat out disdain that Laurel is attempting to be a full-time artist. Her father, who used to fish with a bamboo stick and string in canoe, is now remarried and owns an expensive boat with fancy fishing rods. “He is just totally different, and keeps telling me that I should get a government job, because then I would be completely financially secure. And I am like, who are you dad?” says Laurel. Her mother, who used to run around in a swimming suit covered in dirt, is now what Laurel considers, "high maintenance". She gets her nails done every week, is a bit obsessive about anti-aging creams, and perhaps jokingly or not, says she wants to find a rich man that will support her in old age.

Once Laurel’s father watched her perform Fire Poi. Although he found it interesting, he does not believe that she can, nor should try, to make it her career. Laurel, on the other hand, is willing to be poor and go through rough times in order to pursue her true passion, -- art. As an artist of this nature she states, " You have to be able to work even harder than you would if you worked for someone else. You have to push and promote yourself, because no one else will".

To view more of Laurel's art visit her website at

(Sorry the Video is Sideways Folks! Still working on that one......)

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