The Johns Hopkins Entertainers Club (JHU Entertainers) delights audiences with the act of fire-spinning. With approximately 50 members, the group practices on campus twice a week and performs in major events throughout the school year.
According to former Vice President and current member Lucas Rozendaal, JHU Entertainers was previously a part of the Breakers Crew, the University’s student-run breakdancing group.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Rozendaal explained that the organization used to be juggling-focused, with fire-spinning being added in later.
“[Fire spinning] is a really cool hobby, and it's something that most people don't have a lot of prior experience with,“ he said. “It’s pretty unique to Hopkins, and not a lot of college campuses have it.”
On top of performing for events such as Family Weekend and Hoptoberfest, the JHU Entertainers have done a joint show with the Aerial Circus club, practiced in Washington D.C. and select members have worked at the Nevermore Haunt in the Inner Harbor. Their past performances, dating back to 2007, can be found on YouTube.
In an interview with The News-Letter, former President and current member Breanna Soldatelli emphasized that the club has helped improve her self-confidence.
“Out of all the clubs I partake in around campus, the JHU Entertainers is the most fun I’ve had,“ she said. “It taught me a lot about self-confidence, and I’ve gotten to do all sorts of things that I didn't think were possible.”
Member Joelle Popa shared in an interview with The News-Letter that safety precautions are taken to avoid danger, including wearing specific clothing. Club members are instructed to wear natural, non-synthetic fibers, like cotton or denim; if caught on fire, synthetic fibers can melt and burn into skin, whereas natural fibers can simply be put out. Participants with longer hair use a spray bottle to douse their hair in water before performing to ensure safety during a burn, another term for fire-spinning.
The organization also has to receive a burn permit from the fire department every year, which states they are allowed to have an open flame on campus during practice days and for shows. Members are required to go through thorough safety training and sign safety waivers.
“We go over things such as how to safely handle the fuel container, how to light on fire properly so that there’s no excess fuel on the prop, how to use fire blankets, how to put out the prop and how to properly store them,” Popa said.
After training, new club members are monitored by experienced club members and spotted while burning.
Rozendaal shared that the organization struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, as fire-spinning skills were difficult to teach remotely. However, in the last year, they have more than doubled in new members.
“It's been really important to build a community that's really welcoming and really friendly to people who are new,” he said. “The bigger you are, the better you get and the faster you get better. People pick up tricks and specialize in a trick, and they get good at teaching it and so they can teach it to people faster.”
The organization uses props such as staffs, darts and dragonstaffs in performances. Rozendaal revealed that there is a wide variety in the different directions that one can take their practice.
“[There’s] martial arts, flag spinning, baton twirling; what’s really interesting is even if there are people who use the same prop or do similar stuff, there’s a ton of variety in what that actually looks like,” he said. “By studying different performances and different practices, you can kind of build your own.”
The Entertainers will be performing in a collaboration show with the Aerial Circus Club for Spring Fair 2023. Last year’s collaboration came together at the last minute, Rozendaal said, so this year, the two organizations have already started planning and choreographing.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Camille Blake, former secretary and current president of the JHU Entertainers, expressed her gratitude for the sense of community and adventure that the club has provided her.
“I like performing with these people at campus events because it’s such a tight-knit group, and being able to showcase what this group does to Johns Hopkins is really exciting for me,” she said. “I don’t think I would have had that opportunity to perform in these kinds of events and be involved in this way on campus if I hadn’t joined this club.”