Wednesday evening in Dunedin, a group of people from all walks of life, short, tall, young, old, scientists, psychologists, artists and trade workers alike join together in the Otago Univerity Students’ Association (OUSA) activities hall. Upon walking in, there is inevitably a cluster of smiling faces and embraces to welcome you to the gathering. Around the room is an array of hula hoops, dreadlocks, spinning staffs, funky clothes and kombucha.
Every week is a whirlwind: Joining clubs abroad
I still remember the first night I attended the Dunedin Fire and Circus Club (DFCC). As soon as I entered the door, I was handed a set of poi by a peculiar, bearded man in a striped fedora, and was shown a few “flows” (aka how to use them). Poi is an indigenous craft that originated with the Maori. It consists of two ropes with weights tied to the end, and were used as a way to learn coordination and build wrist strength for the warriors.
I, of course, was no warrior, and had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
My mind was not ready to wrap itself around these contraptions, so I picked up a staff which seemed to be a little easier to grasp. A quirky guy with sandy hair, kind, clear-blue eyes and a kea tattooed on his forearm took notice to my struggling. He showed me how to make a figure 8 with the staff, and made some attempts to throw his to me in exchange for mine at the same time.
As I continued to fumble around, I scanned the room. The room was full of every “circus-skill” imaginable: juggling balls, dragon staffs, fans, rings and more. I wanted nothing more than to find something I was passionate about, and to grow closer to the people that gave off such positive and accepting vibes.
When practice was over, a bit of buzz arose around the room and “burn” became a popularly exclaimed word. Blue eyes asked me if I wanted to join them for the burn, and I of course agreed. Everyone paraded to the union lawn in the middle of campus. A giant speaker was rolled in, booming strong beats and interesting rhythms. Colorful instruments were now exchanged for charred black ones, and before I knew it, I was surrounded by wisps of swirling fire.
I picked up another set of poi and continued to figure them out as I watched the others create beautiful movement and patterns. A tall man with a golden beard, rainbow clothes and a “DFCC” patch on his jacket came up to me and asked if I wanted to learn a new trick. He taught me what I later learned is called a “weave.” After only watching me play around for a few minutes, he asked me if I wanted to play with the fire ones. I looked at him as if he were insane. I had just started learning, and there was no way I was ready to actually spin flaming poi! In my lack of verbal response, he whirled away and quickly returned holding a set of flaming poi out to me.
Feeling ambitious, I grabbed them and began to play. It felt so freeing and exciting! My adrenaline was rushing as I felt the heat of the poi rush past my face as I spun. From that night on, I knew this was only the beginning of my adventure with these people.
To follow were many hours of focus, many bottles of burn cream, and many sleepless nights of buzzing lights and carefree giggles. Every person I met in the community had such a distinct and unique personality. As if each DFCC member is a character in a story, I wanted nothing more than to hear each one. They all came from different origins and had a multitude of travel stories, dreams of the future, and aspirations. It was beautiful to watch each one dance and flow with their choice of prop, because their rich, diverse backgrounds shine through in their own distinct style. I’ve had the privilege this semester to watch so many of the members grow and bloom into better performers and more colorful people – including myself.
I always feel welcome in this community. There has never been a time that I didn’t have someone to talk to, sit next to or to merely watch practice their flow. I have been constantly wrapped in the warmth of both the smiles and the fire this semester. The attitude of inclusion is abundant not only the fire community, but outside to the geographical community as well, because the DFCC reaches out to all, from the children in primary schools to the students at parties and the adults out for drinks in the town square.
The conversations are never about the weather. One day, it could be discussion about how to make changes to society that can benefit the earth and environment. Another day it could be a discussion about crafts and hobbies that aren’t social media or television, like brewing kombucha, abstract painting or knitting. I never thought that I could enjoy a conversation about rocks until the outgoing, Dutch girl with the pink hair and yellow caravan gushed to me about how pounamu, or greenstone, is formed in the deep layers of earth! Of course, ideas of consciousness and connection among others, and the application of how it feels to be in the “flow state” to the actual science behind it are always a common topic. My perspective has been entirely shifted – some of the most intelligent and talented people I have ever met are also the best at playing, and I don’t believe that’s just a coincidence.
The DFCC is all about personal and communal growth through pushing yourself to take chances and try new things. It is about breaking down constructed fears and assumptions to understand why we have them, and how changing them can actually be a good thing. We take care of, watch out for, and love one another. It’s about going back to our roots and finding the beauty in nature. Most importantly, it’s about learning to put all of our energy and passion into enjoying the life we’re given, whatever way we choose, as there truly are some wonderful ways to do so.
We are silly creatures of wonder. The reason that the circus has been around for ages and still continues to thrive is that they hold that spectacular secret – that losing ourselves in the moment to do something amazing with a few small props or merely ourselves is one of the most cathartic, authentic and natural experiences there is. With people as inspiring as the friends I’ve made in Dunedin, I have high hopes of a future connecting to and healing a world of broken hearts and communities with flow arts.
Until then, I’ll carry my own heart filled with love, eyes filled with curiosity, and mind filled with passion, all thanks to the hippies of the DFCC.
Aubrey is a Biochemistry major at Elizabethtown College and BCA Storyteller for the Fall 2017 semester in New Zealand! Aubrey uses photography as a tool to help capture stories, as they encompass more than words alone. Along with taking pictures, you’ll find her hiking, painting, doing yoga, cooking, or whatever else she’s found curious to try that day! Follow Aubrey on his semester abroad by tuning into BCA’s social media platforms and blogs.