Me&MyJob: If you play with fire you can get enriched
Clare Palmer, Fire Dancer
What does your job entail?
I am the founder of fire performance group FirePoise.
We offer fire shows for corporate events, weddings, festivals and parades across Ireland and every day is a bit different!
I spend a lot of time in the office, sending off quotes to clients and chasing up enquiries — I suppose in that way, it's like managing any other business. But, I also choreograph and perform in our fire shows, so there is a lot of rehearsal required as well.
There's also safety information needed for every gig, then costumes, music and our unique props (many of which we make ourselves). It makes for a very busy day.
Is it 9-5?
No, although sometimes it would be nice if I could clock off at 5pm each day.
My day starts around 10am, but often goes on until about 3am — especially if we're working late at a gig.
Being self-employed allows you a degree of freedom in prioritising tasks, but it also massively increases your workload, sense of responsibility and need for determination.
Also, in this line of work, you can never really ‘clock off'. I've had clients phone me at all hours of the day and night, on weekends and holidays — and you always have to answer in a positive and helpful way.
How did you get into this line of work?
I was originally trained as a newspaper journalist, and obtained my degree through the University of Ulster.
I've worked in the Newsletter, Irish News and Belfast Telegraph as a sub-editor — and years ago I wanted to be a conflict correspondent.
But my mum always said that I should go travelling after I got my ‘piece of paper' — and that's what I did. I backpacked around Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia for two and a half years by myself between 2002-2004.
While there, I saw fire dancing for the first time and was amazed. I used my time away to practise and learn the moves and develop my style. It was a great way to meet new people when travelling too.
After coming home, I realised there were very few people playing with fire, and I started to be booked for gigs at nightclubs around Belfast. I started to get quite a few gigs and decided to establish my hobby as a business.
Since then, and with some hiccups along the way, I have gathered an excellent fire crew and we now offer one of the most cutting edge, highly-skilled fire shows in the country.
Outline your career to date?
I started learning poi (one of our fire props) at the beginning of 2002, and spent the next three years learning from other artists around the world and teaching myself.
Coming back to Northern Ireland gave me regular access to the internet, where I was able to find out about other tricks and moves that were being shared online.
A deeper knowledge of fire arts came from my own experiences and from working with other professionals, including Rob Thorburn and Paul Durbin — amazing fire artists from Scotland and England.
I set up FirePoise in September 2005 and at the time it was the only specialised fire performance group in Ireland.
It's grown from strength to strength since then.
Our reputation has opened the doors to some incredible opportunities — we led the Dublin St Patrick's Day parade for three years in a row, have worked for the BBC, RTE and Miramax, and have performed at the Electric Picnic, Culture Night Belfast and at many weddings across the country.
Last year we started work on a brand new show — it's choreographed by international fire artist Meghan C Pike, and the music was provided for us by Oregon-based gypsy jazz band Underscore Orkestra.
It's an amazing show, and our videographer, Slaine Browne, put the video up on our YouTube channel recently.
I heard back from Underscore Orkestra the next day and they loved the show — hopefully we will be working with them again.
Tell us about your training?
My training as a fire performer came from working with other professionals, and teaching myself to a very high standard before I even thought about offering performances.
But the business side was something completely different.
I completed a Go For It business course in September 2005, and since then have been involved in a few different business training courses — most recently the Creative Enterprises course run by WorkWest.
Doing my accounts for the first time was a nightmare, but I have a very understanding accountant — Bill Stevenson — who made sure I had a great template which I've used ever since.
What qualities are required for your job — personal and professional?
Determination, time-management, money-management, a professional approach and sense of perspective — all standard requirements for anyone who wants to set up their own business.
But, with my job, you also need to be an artist, to understand what the client wants without them saying it, patience, a willingness to accept the seasonal element to the work — as well as the skills required to do the job.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Always look on the bright side of life!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I don't really have any spare time... I tend to fill it with things from my ‘to do' list. But, I like gardening. I grew some great potatoes and some oddly-shaped carrots last year.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I won an international fire dancing competition in 2006. The competition was open to fire dancers around the world, who sent in videos which were judged by the rest of the community.
Who has inspired you most in your life?
I'm constantly inspired by the people around me, new people I meet and people with crazy skills on YouTube. Human beings are capable of some incredible, brilliant, things and I love it when people push their abilities.