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The art of Poi: Local fire spinner shares skills of the trade

Savannah Vasquez
Ussery shows off the tools of the trade with her Kevlar fire spinners.

Autumn Lyfe Ussery’s life is anything but ordinary. As a child she spent her summers in Destin visiting her dad and lifeguarding on the beach, but as a young adult Ussery traveled to Namibia, Africa to visit her mother. While in Africa, she backpacked across the continent and soon discovered a talent that would stick with her for life.

“It’s almost an unbelievable story,” said Ussery. “I was living in Africa, traveling and backpacking. One day, I was skydiving with my friends and I saw little lights that looked like fireflies. I knew it wasn’t fireflies because they don’t have them in Africa; it was my friends spinning fire.”

From that time forward, Ussery said she was hooked, and quickly learned the ancient art form of Poi from her friend Zelda. But, she admitted, fire spinning was much harder than it looked.

“After I picked up the basics, I didn’t light for a year,” she said. “It’s dangerous until you know the movements.”

Ussery explained that the art form of Poi originated in New Zealand, created by the indigenous Maori people for flexibility and strength.

“It’s a martial arts in a sense,” she said. “In New Zealand they used it as a dance form and martial arts; it started with strings and cords.”

Today, Ussery said, the art form has progressed into many styles and facets including hula hoops, fans, staffs, LED balls and her method of choice; fire-burning Kevlar blocks.

“I use Kevlar, which is used for fire hoses,” she said. “I use lamp oil to dip it for a light burn, and I use different chains and loops for my fingers. It depends on the pivots and moves I want to make for the show.”

As a mother of three children, a 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old twin boys, Ussery said fire spinning is where she re-centers herself in peaceful meditation.  

“It’s the one time when I find me,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about any responsibilities or anyone else except myself. When performing I hear the fire more than I hear the music. I have to listen to the way it’s coming in and where it’s at so I know how to make my next move. I only focus on watching where it is; it’s just about the flow.”

Although Ussery makes fire spinning look easy, she warned that whirling burning blocks over her head at a fast speed doesn’t come without risk.

“You hurt yourself a lot,” she said. “It takes a certain type of person to carry through with it. What hurts the most is not so much the burns but the force of the Kevlar hitting you as fast as it is going.”

To avoid burns and broken bones, Ussery said she practices new moves only during the winter season and always makes sure she is calm while performing.

“It’s more about muscle memory and repetitive practice,” she said. “I try not to take too many emotions onto the stage. You have to find calmness, and go somewhere that brings you peace. It’s about finding your inner peace, and loving what you do without a label.”


Autumn Lyfe Ussery can be seen performing her fire spinning show at the HarborWalk Village on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and on the occasional holiday weekend. For more information visit www.justaddfire.info.  

To see a video of Autumn in action CLICK HERE