September 2, 2009

Fire Dancers and Drum Circles in Downtown Denver


(Reposted from Associated Content)

As the sun goes down every Sunday night in Denver, the steps of Confluence Park begin to fill with people of all ages: the nervous children wondering why their parents have dragged them under a bridge at night; the mellow twentysomethings taking hits off a pipe (tobacco, of course!); even the elderly wondering... well, why their kids have brought them under a bridge at night. I am often among these onlookers, sitting on the corner platform or playing in the water.

Toward the back of the cement steps, drummers—both new and experienced—choose a spot and make themselves comfortable. They begin beating their drums of all sizes and shapes at different speeds, until it turns into something that sounds like a practiced melody. Some people even have cowbells and didgeridoos. Some participants sing, chant, or dance along with the music.

The fire dancing starts off slowly, maybe one or two performers at a time with a break in between. As the minutes pass and the sky darkens further, more performers arrive and appear onstage, overlapping. They keep the audience captivated and entertained and unsure of who they should pay attention. Like the drummers, the dancers come in all ages, sizes, and levels of experience, performing their own styles of fire-dancing. Young women who belly-dance ever so erotically. Guys who, if you were to bump into them on a dark street, may make you a little afraid for your safety. Teenagers just starting out with rage-style glow sticks and mellow tricks. Older participants who clearly have many years of experience at this art. But they all get up and perform a kind of magic with fire—and do so in a way to convey their own style and culture.

Summer nights in Denver are amazing for reasons like this. Sitting on the edge of the Platte River, listening to amazing percussion, while watching a spectacle like this can't be matched in any formal and regulated setting. Known by many names and having seen its share of turnover, the Confluence Park gathering has been around for years. Drawing on a shared sense of community, the performers help beginning "spinners," act as spotters in the event a performer catches on fire, and keep a wary eye on observers who sit too closely.

One way you, as a participant, can help is to observe fire safety. Don't sit anywhere on the two platforms where they perform—not even off to the side. You can either sit in the main audience area or off to the east side, at the edge of the steps. The west side of the platform is primarily reserved for practicing performers.

One or two food/drink vendors are usually set up, but don't count on it. Bring your camera to capture the experience, but—for the sake of those playing with fire—flash photography is probably not appreciated. Try to show up by 9 p.m. if you want a decent seat.

To get to this area, take the 23rd Avenue exit from I-25 and drive east past the Aquarium. Parking isn't difficult to come by, as meters stop running at 8 P.M. and there is a small parking lot. After parking, take the sidewalk path parallel to the river, pass the REI, and you'll come to the cement stairs.

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