By Nikolas Williams
Despite the limited space in Ross building’s dormitory hallway, freshman Hope Smith twirls her baton without hindrance.
She fluidly spins it about in arcs demonstrating her four (going on five) years of majorette experience. Smith’s presentation is only a demo of what she really specializes in, a form of baton dance known as fire-twirling. Taking her steel fire baton, she adds fuel to the two wicker wrapped ends (her preference: Kingsford Charcoal lighter fluid) and lights them ablaze. She practices at night on campus over pavement keeping away from any grass.
When the term majorette, or more completely, drum majorette was coined in the 1930’s it referred to a woman who led a marching band with her baton in hand. Since then majorettes have evolved into their own routine often performing in the same venues cheerleaders would. Fire dancing on the other hand is an ancient art in itself. No single group has a monopoly on its origins, from the fire knife dance of the Samoans, to the fire poi swinging skills of the New Zealand Maori tribe. From the old and the new, fire twirling emerges.
In all four years of attending East Bladen High School, located in Cypress Creek, NC, Smith was on a majorette squad. And for three of those four years she was co-captain. Typically they danced with regular batons but occasionally brought out the big guns when they performed for school crowds of over 400.
“During homecoming and big events we used fire baton,” Smith said. Naturally with use of fire comes safety precautions. She explains, “Don’t wear hairspray. And your stockings—you’re not supposed to wear those because they’re flammable.” Smith recalls a close call on one event, “Our senior night the captain’s hair caught on fire. She had extensions on. She started running—it was not good.”
Hope herself remains unscathed, occasionally arm hair gets singed but that’s expected when playing with fire.
What would any form of dance be without music? Smith shares her preferences, “Usually I get my music from the Step Up movies. My main song for fire is I’mma Shine by Youngbloodz.”
She sees a connection in the energetic rap lyrics about shinning and the glow of the flames she twirls. In the way athletes reach the zone when they’re fully involved in their playing, Hope finds a similar feeling in what she does. “I have a passion to twirl fire I think it’s unique and different.”
On one occasion Smith was joined by fellow freshmen Delphon Curtis Jr, and Max Williams, as she practiced on one of the outskirt streets of William Peace.
Their viewing experience was elevated when Smith asked them to give fire-twirling a try.
“It was pretty amazing at first I was slightly apprehensive about the trying because…I mean it’s fire and I kinda didn’t want to burst into flames,” Curtis Jr. said. “Then I thought to myself who am I kidding I love fire.”
Curtis Jr. felt like a natural and that he may have unlocked his own innate fire dancing skills. His fear of the flames disappeared when he fell into the moment. He concludes “I would definitely do it again.”
Smith wants to share her fire dancing experience with others and is working to start a majorette club at Peace. Five is the magic number to get a school group going. Smith is ahead plus one.
“I have six girls already so hopefully I’ll get a constitution together for our club.” As not to intimidate she wants to ease members into the more difficult aspects. “I want to make it The William Peace Majorettes. I want to bring in the first baton, then grow up into the fire baton. Some people are terrified of the fact of fire batons.”
Smith is a fan of other majorette twirlers, particularly those of East Carolina University. As of yet no men have joined her potential club. “I think guys are more interested in the fire part of it,” Smith says.