Full moon and fire dancers light up Chicago’s lakefront

If you’re a fire dancer celebrating a birthday with other fire dancers, sometimes the flames on the cake candles just don’t cut it. At least that was true for Liz Breen Campanella and her friends one Chicago evening in 2004. After the party they decided to have some fun doing what they love best—fire dancing—and went down to the lakefront. They quickly drew an enthusiastic crowd that wanted more, and Full Moon Jam was born.

Campanella is the founder and director of Full Moon Jam as well as manager and performer for Pyrotechniq, a worldwide traveling troupe of fire performers.

A jam consists of groups of fire dancers moving to music provided by local percussionists. They use tools such as poi (a set of chains with weighted ends), staff, hula hoops and fans. The dances are one part artistry and one part athleticism, inspired by South Pacific cultural traditions.

Before a jam begins, a large area known as the Great Circle is roped off where six to eight fire dancers perform at any given time. Spectators and drummers locate themselves around the outside perimeter of the circle.

Jams are informal. Sometimes only a handful of dancers or drummers shows up; sometimes there are dozens. The public is invited to attend and anyone is welcome to bring drums; however, only certified fire dancers are allowed in the ring along with their assigned safety person.

Jams take place on the night of the full moon falling between Sunday and Thursday. If a full moon occurs on a Friday or Saturday, the celebration is scheduled for a Thursday or Sunday. Most of the jams take place at the lakefront park between Foster and Lawrence avenues. They start after sundown and end at 10:15 p.m., allowing 45 minutes for clean up before the park closes.  All park rules are strictly observed, including the ban on alcohol and substance use. At the end of the jam spectators and performers alike help clean up—this is a “leave no trace” event.

Campanella loves her community of fire dancers (in Chicago alone there are 400-500 fire dancers) and the fun they have doing Full Moon Jam.

Campanella says everyone has a good time. The jams are family-friendly and people come out with blankets, lawn chairs and picnics. Even dogs are welcome as long as they remain on leashes.

“It’s not just the fire dancers that have fun. It’s the drummers, it’s the kids, it’s the families with their picnics,” says Campanella.

The event is free. For a complete schedule and more information, visit fullmoonjam.org.

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