Fascinated by watching the original Woodenbong Fire Tribe perform at local music and arts venues, Paula Swanson decided she wanted to be ‘one of those girls’.
Twirling fire as they danced to live drums and saxophone riffs, the Woodenbong Fire Tribe made a lasting impression on Paula Swanson.
“I first became interested in fire twirling in 1996 when I saw the original Woodenbong crew perform – a group made up of university students, artists and musicians,” Paula says.
“In 1999 when my boyfriend, who had been involved with Woodenbong, was handed a $300 kitty from the group as they were going their separate ways, he decided to keep it going and that’s where I stepped in.”
Having been involved with choreography since she was a young girl, Paula saw an opportunity to combine the world of fire and dance. Over the past three years the group has also been collaborating with aerial artists The Vertigals and tribal belly dancers Nomadica. Woodenbong have been a drawcard for the Palm Creek Folk Festival for 20 years and their last performance at the festival’s 25th anniversary was spectacular.
“Audiences set up to watch the show two hours beforehand so they could get the best seat,” Paula says.
“We’re now in the first stages of putting together our next big show for the festival and look forward to performing it for a second time at Cultural Fest this year. We also perform throughout the year on a smaller scale at corporate and community events in the region and I’m running fire-twirling classes twice a week.”
In the past Paula says Woodenbong had been selective about who could and couldn’t join the group, so she set herself the mission to involve anyone of any size, shape, form or age who was committed to becoming a part of the tribe.
“We have long-standing members of 21 years, some who’ve been with us for 12 years, ‘newcomers’ who joined three years ago and some who’ve just joined this year,” Paula says.
“We even have two families of four.”
Woodenbong Fire Tribe have always delivered a unique theme-based performance, usually with a narration, tribal feel and driving drum beats. They also love to invent show-stopping props such as fire-breathing dragons, flaming parasols and spinning planets.
“It’s very hard to say what my favourite show has been because no two have been the same but I feel our biggest achievement to date was our Sol Journey show in 2008 – a journey into the solar system,” Paula says.
“We have an extremely creative team of fire artists, stage managers, musicians and prop, lighting and costume designers and I’m in no hurry to retire.”