Fire and Swine

[Christa Sperry has been involved in the Burning Man community since 2005. She is a mentor and Youth Minister at FreedomHill in Maryland, always trying to encourage the beautiful and absurd in the future leaders of the world. During the summer months, she throws locally grown produce at the urbanites for a fair price. When in Black Rock City, you can find her at BMIR 94.5 coordinating events, talking smack, and spilling drinks.]

This past March at FreedomHill, the Sudbury model school where I work, some of the kids were asking me about Burning Man:

What is it?

Where is it?

Can kids go?

What do you do there?

I attempted to answer these questions as best I could with a little help from one of the 9 year old boys who went for his first time in 2009. We told them about the interactive art aspect, how everything there happens because people want it to happen (not because someone is telling them to do it), community building, self-reliance, and burning things to the ground. This idea was really not very foreign to them as it is pretty much how they spend their days at FreedomHill (well, minus burning things to the ground) so they were immediately intrigued. At that point the conversation naturally led to the question, “Wouldn’t that be cool if there was a Burning Man just for kids?”. Wouldn’t it? Why not?

One of the 12 year old boys, Freddy, was really into this idea and we started plotting and scheming how to make it happen: We would need fire performers, large scale art, interactive art, awesome people, and of course, an effigy. Luckily, the DC area is full of all these things, including people who are masters at building large structures for burning. I approached my friends Wineman and Amira (who were responsible for the beautiful pony that burned at fall 2009 Playa Del Fuego – our regional burn) about helping us with this project, and they got on board right away. And what exactly were they going to build? A pig. A giant noble pig, reminiscent of old Mother Goose drawings as per Freddy’s instructions.

The next few months passed in a flash with lots of planning and organizing. I got calls and emails from many different people in the Burner community and beyond offering art, magic, crafts, a pool, fire sculptures, lasers, face painting, music, food, and everything else that makes a burn, a burn. We decided early on that this would be a Burners Without Borders event. The kids originally decided they wanted to make it a fundraiser for various local nonprofits, but when the oil disaster in the Gulf happened and they realized how devastating it was to both humans and the environment they changed their focus. We were now accepting hair, fur, nylons, and cash donations to be sent to Matter of Trust to help make oil booms.

The day of the event, adults and kids showed up from all over the DC metro area to partake in, create, and put on Fire and Swine – a 100% kid-centric burn! We had a room full of sound, lasers, decorations, and backlights. There was hoop making, poi workshops, puppet creation, jam sessions, thumb piano crafting, an interactive balloon art sculpture, moon bounce, torch art demo, Cosmosis (a beautiful fire art sculpture), people grilling up all kinds of food to share, and of course, gifts. You name it and someone made it happen. The kids definitely ran the show. Some were a little hesitant at first, but they soon gave in. We had art supplies on hand so that everyone could decorate The Pig in the spirit of the temple at Burning Man; with thoughts, quotes, drawings, and other musings.

After a beautiful summer day of merrymaking, the time came for the conclave to begin. Freddy started it out with some palm torches (his first burn), then others followed with poi, swords, hoops, fans, fire breathing, and everything in between. Most of the kids there had never seen anything like it, and they were all mesmerized! DC has some incredible fire artists that put on the greatest show on earth that night.

The band was jamming hard and the kids started to chant, “Burn the Pig! Burn the Pig!” (with of course the obligatory “Save the Pig! Save the Pig!” being thrown in for good measure). After about 25 minutes of the conclave, Freddy came out with a specially made pole with a flaming mini replica of The Pig on the end of it, and lit The Big Pig. It burned magnificently; there were flames shooting out of The Pig’s mouth about 5 feet in the air. As soon as it fell, everyone was on their feet cheering, and some started to run and skip around the perimeter of the flames. The kids joined in screaming with delight as they ran around it with their moms, dads, and friends old and new.

After all the excitement died down, the kids started picking up whatever they saw, helping those around them in true Burner fashion. I heard adults say it was by far the best burn they had ever been to, and kids saying it was the best time of their lives. I also heard Freddy, Wineman, and Amira hashing out the details of the next burn. Freddy said, “I’d like to see an ostrich with a jockey on him go up in flames”, to which Wineman and Amira replied, “Yeah, we can do that.”

All in all, it was a great day and night with lots of dancing, playing, art, respect, fire, new friends, laughs, and music. We also raised some money and fur to help the Gulf. After that day, I had no doubt in my mind that the future of our world was in good hands.

[Photos by Joshua Cunningham]

About the author: Christa Sperry

6 Comments on “Fire and Swine

  • BrotherMichael says:

    I love this story.
    This is what Burning Man is all about.

    Thank you!

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  • Soulaye says:

    Those kids showed us!!

    So quick beautiful memory: I busted out a silk dancing fan in the laser’d dance room. Little kiddie eyes got wide really quick and many asked if they could try it. When I announced that anyone who wanted could make their own, one little girl abby shrieked, “What are we waiting for?!”
    Best participatory audience ever!

    Indeed – what are we waiting for?!?!
    Keep your childlike spirit alive!

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  • Pamipoi says:

    Soulaye- my daughter, Grace, made a fan with you and loved it! Sadly, it broke but she still talks about it months later and we plan to buy a glue gun and make some ourselves. Thanks for your wonderful gift.

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  • Flipit says:

    For the last two years at our lakesoffire regional, we’ve let kidsville run part of one of the greeter shifts.

    And I’ve had great interactions with them as a ranger at LOF. This year on burn night, my perimeter had a large group of kids, many with parents on the effigy team, who lead the chant of “burn it.” My main problems were with the adults.

    Last year, we had a works with a number of participant operated Propane poofers. A mother had her son get permission and safety instructions from me before getting to use it. But seeing the pride when he poofed his first jet of fire was amazing.

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  • Rustie Alft says:

    I Love that Idea especially after showing them videos of this year’s Burning Man 2010.
    Their Paw – Paw is at the Burning Man this year for the first time. These children were just so inspired by these videos. They have already made plans to start a project.! Go for this idea because You will not regret it.

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  • Soulaye says:

    Pamipoi, somehow just saw this – the essential ingredient to a good silk fan is habotai silk. Christa can reach me if you need more info… Glad to share the silk fan joy!

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