When We’re Not Hustling is an interview series by Jessie Sage that features sex workers talking about what they do when they’re not working.
Violet Hart is relatively new to sex work, having started camming and making clips during the pandemic with a friend who showed her the ropes. However, she is certainly not new to performing. She ran a successful “footstagram” account that Instagram repeatedly shut down (of course), and has traveled all over the world as a performer, including to Burning Man. In this very hot edition of When We’re Not Hustling, I talk to her about fire dancing!
Interview edited for length and clarity.
How did you get into fire dancing?
I went to a festival that was really cool once on Center Island called Figment. There were workshops on using hula hoops, contact staffs, and fire fans with non-lightable props for newbies like me.
I met this guy and we exchanged numbers. I started hanging out with him and another one of my friends. They both spun fire staff and so our entire hangout would be a lesson. Then one year he told me he they were going to Burning Man to perform. That seemed really fun so I said, “I’ll be a safety tech!” He said, “No, you’re a performer.”
I decided to give it a try and I loved it right away. I went to Burning Man as a performer!
What was it like to go to Burning Man as a performer?
I really liked going down with a family of people that I kind of knew or knew only online. You have this home base which is really, really nice.
Once we were together, we had to rehearse and get to know each other. We knew performing would be a really exciting experience.
The best part about it was the night of The Man burn [which closes out the week-long festival every year] because we were front and center stage, performing in front of all 70 thousand people who were there.
We got to sit in-between the audience and The Man. It is kind of like a clock, with The Man in the center, and at different intervals performer groups are placed, with an audience that forms a ring around us.
I remember being super nervous about it, but as soon as the fire lit up in my hands none of it mattered anymore, I was there for myself. I was just focused on the fire in front of me, my chorography, and my friends, The Sooty Devils, that I was doing my performance with.
Do you perform with The Sooty Devils often, or was this just for Burning Man?
The Sooty Devils and I do Acro Yoga and spin fire together. We are basically climbing all over each other while holding fire! It is a really beautiful experience because we travel around the world performing together. We have gone to LARPs in Ontario, and we were supposed to do it at a Con this year.
It is a facet to our friendship. We get to do this really crazy thing together, and it makes me love these people so much more.
Was it scary when you first started?
No matter how much you practice with a practice staff, the weight once you light it on fire is totally different because it is covered in fuel, so there is a little bit of a learning curve. But it was only a little worrisome.
I have long hair so I have to tie it up, I spray myself down with water first, I wear clothes that are the not flammable. I have even spun naked and thought, “This is perfect because if I’m naked I’m not going to catch anything on fire!”
We make sure to always have a safety tech around. I have trained my boyfriend to be my safety tech. We use a fire blanket and set up a fire station that isn’t far from where we are playing, dancing, or performing.
The safety tech is supposed to have their eyes on us, watching every moment while staying out of reach so that we don’t swing around and hit them accidentally.
Have you ever burnt yourself?
I have gotten minor burns, but nothing lasting. A few times, I hit the kevlar [the part of the fire toy that is soaked in oil and lit on fire] against my arm, and it left small blisters.
I remember once I burnt my hair a little, but I have a lot of hair so it was okay! I was practicing with a new staff; it got a little too close, and I smelt the burning of my hair and I threw the staff. But it was just a little bit, I barely noticed.
It used to be scary, but now I know that if I am wearing safe fabrics, and if I am doing all the safety things, it is relatively safe. Freak accidents do happen, but if you’re following all of the protocols you should totally be okay.
Jessie Sage is a sex worker and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s also the co-founder of Peepshow Magazine and the co-host of the Peepshow Podcast. Her words can be found in the Washington Post, VICE’s Motherboard, Hustler Magazine, Men’s Health, BuzzFeed, and more. She’s currently writing a book on sex work, motherhood, and illness called An Unexpected Place (forthcoming on West Virginia University Press).