Beyond Dust: Exploring the Heart of What Truly Makes Us Burners

With the preface of knowing that the following statement may make your eyebrows raise, I am confidently clear in declaring the following…

What truly makes us Burners has nothing to do with our attendance at Black Rock City. 

There, I said it. And, though I know for some, this statement may unravel the foundation of what you thought this community was about, I would like to offer some insight into something much bigger and beyond. 

I have personally long dropped the typical Burner conversation icebreaker of stating how many years I have been going to Burning Man. Yes, participation in something as magically mysterious and fantastically freeing as Black Rock City is a rite of passage, but there is something so intrinsically beyond the borders of this temporary urban desert that makes us true Burners. So I am going to share a story of someone I know who is a true Burner. Yet she has never set foot in Black Rock City.

Manu De La Roche lives in Portugal where she works as a professional burlesque and cabaret dancer. Her degree in theatre led her down a pathway of dance, film, and later teaching drama to children. But her heart led her back to the stage to share her creative expression through burlesque. Her deep-rooted love for the artform has grown from a long fascination with the history of the tease as a somatic expression of storytelling seated in humorous parody

Manu has a true gift for connecting with people. I had the pleasure of connecting with Manu through Kindling where she has been gifting her monthly shows to the community. It only took one email exchange for me to immediately feel connected to her spirit. Although I have never met Manu in person, her radically inclusive nature was evident, and she was never a stranger. Since Kindling’s inception in May 2020, Manu has continued to share her monthly “Kindling Shows.” They are warm, fun, participatory, inclusive, decommodified, and vastly radically expressive of Manu’s passions for burlesque. 

Manu was first introduced to Burning Man three years ago through social media and, like many of us, she was immediately taken by the artwork, expressive costuming, and ritual. Though this tiny view into a new and unexplored world of desert dreams quickly became a desired bucket list destination, the vital and most enveloping desire to connect with this community came from somewhere else: an organic understanding that the ideals of this place were not merely tied to dust, that the seed of this radical, yet so paradoxically inherent ethos is something that thrives from inside yourself. If you feel that connection, and string your life together with the guiding Principles of immediacy, radical self-reliance and participation — then you too, in my eyes, are a Burner. 

It’s evident to me that the heart of what drives us to this most unique culture is something that comes from within. In a sense, the framework of the Principles could be thought of as a mirror — a vehicle for eliciting something deep from within, calling us to inquire — telling us that we have a place to belong… some even call it ‘home.’ While the desert is one place in which we come together to share, express, grow, learn, explore, and co-create, it is certainly not the only vessel for our guiding Principles to manifest in unstoppable ways. And with this, for our community to grow far beyond the boundaries of the trash fence and sprout in all the colorful corners of our globe.

Join Manu De La Roche at her upcoming Valentine’s Day Special on Saturday, February 13th from 2:00-3:00pm PST/5:00pm EST/10:00pm GMT by registering on Kindling.

Cover image event photo courtesy of Manu De La Roche

About the author: Devyn Madsen

Devyn Madsen

As a seasoned event producer, community organizer, and prolific artist, Devyn Madsen has been deeply engaged with Burning Man culture throughout the years and around the world. In addition to leading theme camps and facilitating a Houdini-style escape act from a hot air balloon over playa, she has held lead roles in producing events such as San Francisco Decompression, Precompression, and Burnal Equinox, organized Burning Man’s annual auction at The Artumnal Gathering, cooked and planned meals for 250 community leaders at the European Leadership Summit, catered for over 1000 people at Desert Arts Preview, and has been part of the Everywhere Pavilion Team and Man Pavilion Aerial Performances in Black Rock City. In 2020 she took on a significant role with Kindling as a web producer, designer, publisher, and community manager. She is also the Content Director for the East Bay Mini Maker Faire, and an Assistant Producer of San Francisco’s beloved Edwardian Ball.

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