Fire Breathing Performers Hone Their Skills At Missoula Studio
Maybe you’ve always dreamed of being a performer, even though you sing like a mud frog and your feet can’t find a two-step. But singing and dancing isn’t the only way to get into the spotlight. What if you could throw flames from your mouth like a dragon?
Learning fire breathing was the goal of a small group of twenty-somethings last Sunday. They gathered in front of a cavernous building on DeFoe Street in Missoula for a workshop with Jeff Bluett, a fire eating and breathing instructor from Bozeman. The workshop was offered by Moksha Aerial Studio, whose regular schedule includes classes with names like Acroyoga, Kid Circus!, Aerial Yogafusion, and Flow Jam. It’s a sort of fitness-through-performance studio.
A woman named Arial Prop, who performs with the same Bozeman group Jeff’s in, has taken this training, but never done the actual fire breathing.
"Fire right next to my face does kinda freak me out still," said Prop.
Mark Berner was there to hone his skills. He thinks there are some good reasons for a novice to consider learning how to breathe fire.
"I think it might just be for the thrill of it or maybe as a cool trick to show your friends at that next back yard barbeque," said Berner.
Christine Gill is eager to add fire breathing to her list of performance skills.
"Because I think it just is kinda badass," Gill said. "It looks great!"
It does look great when Jeff gives a demonstration. That’s at the end of the workshop, though. First, everyone sits down on chairs or on the sidewalk and he starts off with a breathing lesson.
"Sit up straight and we’re gonna breathe four different types of breaths," said Bluett. "They’re all gonna be interconnected. So you’re gonna breathe in your nose and out of your nose, in your nose and out of your mouth, in your mouth and out of your mouth, in your mouth and out of your nose."
Everyone closes their eyes and concentrates on their breathing for several minutes. I try to follow along, but have to stop when I get light-headed.
The breathing lesson is followed by an anatomy lesson.
"You have actually seven lung chambers," explains Bluett. "Your very lowest lung chamber, the very lowest part where your diaphragm is, your stomach, is where all your power comes from. Fire breathing is gonna come from the lower lung chambers, but it’s gonna explode like a cough from the top of your lungs."
There’s another circular breathing exercise, then the students learn how to close the back of their throats off, so they don’t swallow the fuel , which, among other dangers, can make them sick and cause chemical pneumonia.
"The material that we use for fire breathing is actually an oil base," Bluett said. "It is combustible, not flammable, so we’re going to use that fluid and your throat to make a wall from where that fluid is supposed to be."
Fuel in my mouth. Ugh. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do this, even though Jeff says it’s safe, as long as you learn the proper technique.
All the woman have long hair and one of the men has a beard. Hair seems like a problem for people about to throw fire from their faces. But, again, Jeff says that’s not a problem.
"I’ll definitely be able to cut down on your amount of hair loss from your performances," he said. "Controlling where that corona is and where you pass your torch through is so you’re controlling where the fire sits."
Okay then. Next, everyone grabs a water bottle and moves out into the street to practice misting. That is, filling their mouths with pretend fuel, the water, and exploding it up and away from their bodies. [misting]
There’s a lot of spewing and spitting—for about twenty minutes.
That practice leads them into misting with the real fuel, which everyone agrees is easier than misting with water, I guess because it’s lighter. But what exactly is the real fuel? Jeff holds up a metal container that looks like a miniature propane bottle.
"A 'paraffin-based specialized breathing fluid' is what I call it," Bluett said. "To mostly discourage people from picking the stuff up and trying it without any sort of training, without any sort of experience, someone watching them to make sure they’re not doing any unsafe habits. I don’t tell anybody who comes after a performance, who watches me… they say, hey, man, what do you use? I say, I use a special breathing fluid that you can’t get your hands on because I care about your safety."
After nearly ninety minutes of coaching his students through safety, breathing, misting, and the use of a torch, Jeff demonstrates fire breathing. He fills his lungs with air, closes off his throat, and squirts fuel into his mouth. And then [whoosh, whoosh, whoosh].
Finally, the students are all ready to make like dragons. They take turns lighting a torch for each other and breathing fire out into the afternoon sunshine.