Dutch Dolan aims to create a troop of fire-throwers to keep a traditional art form ablaze.
As the saying goes, “If you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned.”
Tattoo artist Dutch Dolan has learned this lesson. He is one of the few fire-throwers in Philadelphia and is currently the forerunner of a new project to found Philly’s first fire throwing troop. Raised in West Philadelphia, Dolan has been a fire-thrower for more than five years and is trying to bring the thrilling experience to people locally.
“Philadelphia has a lot to offer to the art world, and we don’t put out nearly as much as we should,” Dolan said.
One of Dolan’s ultimate goals is for Philadelphia to have some representatives attend a yearly event, the Burning Man, held in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. It’s a fire gathering that brings participants together to celebrate the significance of fire and promote self-expression artistically, which often encompasses fire-throwing.
Those who come out to the event are usually participating as a representative of their state or city. Dolan would like to bring Philadelphia to the forefront of the art world and unite fire-throwers here to represent themselves locally, as well as at events.
Dolan was first introduced to the art upon his arrival in Hawaii. He describes it as a circus-style juggling act which highlights fire-spinning and throwing.
“Its historical significance is very important in understanding this art,” Dolan said.
In much of their ancient mythology, the Hawaiian people used to worship Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes. The volcano was an extremely powerful elemental source in their culture, and fire was important in music and even religion.
“Fire throwing is an ancient art, which not only has a cultural significance in the Hawaiian island but also in Japanese and Chinese culture,” Dolan said.
He explained fire-throwers have a similar elemental portion of religious ceremonies and have a respect for the concept of fire. Currently, fire throwing has had a direct influence on the martial arts and an even newer connection with music and dance.
With much practice and precision, Dolan said he learned fire throwing in a more traditional fashion which carried out in his performances as he traveled back to Philadelphia. Upon his return, Dolan said he was excited to begin collaborating with others.
However, there was virtually no one who practiced this art or knew much about it.
“It was different here, much different,” Dolan said. “Fire throwing had no ceremonial purpose. No eye candy. It was just filled with people who were basically playing with fire.”
The further east he traveled, the less fire throwing he saw.
“It’s pretty cool to be one of the only people who performs this kind of art,” Dolan said. “It makes my performances novel and different. On the other hand, it is kind of lonely to be the only guy really doing this.”
He has encountered only a few fire-throwers and even fewer people know where to get supplies for this practice.
Dolan said he would like to educate people about fire throwing, its history and how to perform. Before he can take that next step, he said he must gain more knowledge of the art form himself and figure out the most effective way to spread the word.
“Being that fire throwing is more of a spring activity, there will be a lot more stuff coming out,” Dolan said. “I will personally be doing more events and inviting the few other fire-throwers who I have found so far to come join me.”
He plans on creating a Facebook page as well as a website in order to bring awareness.
“It’s all about publicity,” Dolan said. “I just want to spread the word. Maybe there is somebody out there that is a little further along in the process, and I would be more than willing to join their tribe.”
In the meantime, Dolan will continue with his job as a tattoo and gallery artist. He focuses on painting with mostly Japanese ink-brushing and ink- penning. Dolan works with a multitude of different mediums, but he plans on focusing much of his attention on putting Philadelphia on the fire-throwing map.
One of his future steps is to contact one of the fire departments in the city and speak to a few firefighters about safety issues and figure out the legalities within the city.
“I need to find out what can be done in city limits and how to go about tending to people’s safety,” Dolan said. “Once this gets big, I will be accountable for the safety of a large amount of people. This is not child’s play and although it is fun, it takes much precaution to be able to make this experience a harmless one.”
In order to create a troupe in Philadelphia, he needs community support and the cooperation of venues to offer open spaces to allow for performances.
Shanell Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.