A fire-breathing Calgarian passionate for entertainment

Sandra Sommerville was a student at the University of Lethbridge when she first discovered the art of fire-dancing. After approaching a girl at a party who was fire-spinning, she asked her some questions and was hooked from there.

Back then, Sommerville learned the bulk of her skills by watching YouTube videos. “You pick up what you can and you just drill it,” says Sommerville. “Lot of practice and lot of mistakes.”

 As a student, Somerville would practice hula hooping and ball spinning for a consecutive four hours a day.

“I don’t want to do my term paper right now, might as well hula-hoop instead!” Sommerville remembers.

She completed a bachelor’s degree in both fine arts and education. “I finished the degree, finished the practicum, got offered jobs, and declined them.”

Her passion for performing outweighed all her other options.

Sommerville is running a growing performance business. Her stage name, SaFire, describes her fiery personality on and off stage.

She has over 14,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel, SaFire Hoop Dance. There, she posts hula-hooping tutorials and past performances.

At the heart of Sommerville performances is fire poi, an art which originates from the Māori people of New Zealand. The word poi in Māori means ball. Performers create different patterns by swinging a ball at the end of a chain or string in each hand.

Fire is visually stimulating and an eye-catching element. When asked why people are so excited by fire, Sommerville laughs and simply says “Because it’s fire.”

Other than fire-related performances, Sommerville does several differenr acts such as hula-hooping, LED light dancing, stilts, among others. “When you manipulate an object, as a circus artist would, it defies physics,” says Sommerville. Her art captures the imagination of people and their concept of what is possible.

Besides performing, Sommerville worked as a motivational speaker after graduating from university.

She says high school kids are engaged and asked tons of questions from her presentations – something she says is hard to do. “I had a fire show for a school and the kids went nuts,” Sommerville remembers of her first presentation in a school. “They just lost it.”

“I never thought I would be doing this as a profession; not until the moment I realized I could share fire dance and circus to connect with students in my motivational youth talks.” 
-Sandra Sommerville 

She was a victim of bullying in elementary and middle school for being a small and kind of weird kid. She turned to homeschooling to avoid the problem.

Sommerville strives to motivate people, especially the kids at her school performances. “I speak to young people about what it is like to be bullied as a child and how they can pursue their dreams and make something of their life in anyway that they want.”

Sommerville, known on stage as Safire, is a fierce and fearless performer. Photo by Abby LaRocque

With total commitment and the ability to learn, anyone can give this a try. Sommerville was twenty-two years old when she decided to go for it. With no previous dance or performing experience, she is now confident with her profession.

The next skill she wants to learn is an easy pick. “Sword-swallowing!” She says excitedly.

“It’s definitely an unconventional career. The comedic part is that people will still ask me, ‘Do you have a day-job?’”

Sommerville explains that being an entrepreneur is much more than just the business portion of things, “When you’re an entrepreneur, especially an entrepreneur performer, you are everything. You are a costume maker, secretary, manager, accountant, etc.”

Despite the oddity of her profession, Sommerville is very comfortable with continuing her career in performing.

“It’s the most fun thing I could possibly be doing. Even if I have a terrible show, they always say a bad day in show-business is still a better day than the office.”

alarocque@cjournal.ca 

The editor responsible for this article is Daniel Rodriguez drodriguez@cjournal.ca