Fire swirling about her and hearing only the sound swishing sound of flames, Heather Lawson, also known as "Ziva," is transported to a world of her own, fully caught up in the moment of creating art through the ancient Polynesian tradition of fire dancing.
It was a string of random events that lead the born and raised Bootjack resident to a fire dancing performance in Kauai that would change her life forever.
In 2006, Lawson quit her waitressing job and was trying to decide what to do. Undecided as to what to do in college, she decided instead to go island hopping for a few months and bought a ticket to Maui. After Maui, she went to Oahu and while there received an invitation from a friend she met in Maui to come to Kauai. It was there, at a New Year's party, that she first saw fire dancers -- and fell in love with the art form.
"It was beautiful," she said.
Phil Villatora, director of the dance group from 'Na Keiki O Ka Aina' (The Children of the Land), approached Lawson at the event but she was so enthralled by the fire dancing that she barely noticed him. However he noticed how intrigued she was by it and later asked her to come to another performance, which she did -- and she was hooked. She was invited to stay and learn the art form. It was then that she called her family back home and told them she was staying.
"When Heather went to Kauai I had expected her to be there for an extended vacation," said Dave Lawson, Heather's father. "I did not expect she would be there as long as she was ... I feel it was a great experience that not many people get."
Heather said she had never imagined an experience like this would happen to her.
"I never imagined I'd be a fire dancer," she said. "Because of timing, I realized I didn't have much to go back to and it worked for me."
She sold her car so she would have money to stay and sold Polynesian jewelry, coconuts and musical instruments with artistic designs she painted.
"It was a life changing thing to do something like that, because before I always did what I was supposed to do," Heather said.
For eight months of the 11/2 years she was in Kaui, she lived by a river in the Kauaian jungle and her house was a bus that had been converted into a home -- although it was drivable -- with a couch and a table. Although it had no electricity, it did have a generator.
"I can't believe I did it for eight months," she said. "It was like I stepped into a whole new world."
Lawson began to learn fire poi -- tethered weights on fire. When it was time for her first performance, it seemed like the weather was working against her. There was a big storm but the group decided to go through with the performance. Villatora began drumming as lightening flashed and rain poured in the mountains but where they were fire dancing on the beach, there was no rain, only stars.
"I woke up the next day just feeling different, like something had changed," she said. "It was a transformational experience."
She began teaching fire dancing at the school and later began managing the school. Villatora, who is from Kauai, taught Lawson, and his other students, that by sharing their art form they helped keep the culture alive.
"It's a beautiful art to be respected," Heather said. "I feel super lucky to have learned from the roots."
She said fire dancing gave her a way to express herself in a way that she never could before.
"The whole thing changed the direction of my life," she said. "I found out what I wanted to do. I realized I could go after things I wanted and not what I thought I should be doing."
Not only did she discover her passion, she also discovered a whole new world.
"When you're in the fire, it's like the world disappears," she said. "You are aware of that moment fully -- just you and the fire. It's very powerful and inspiring and makes me feel alive."
Dave said his daughter has always had a passion for art and dance so he was not to surprised when she took up the Polynesian inspired art form.
"I am pleased that she has such a driving passion about it," Dave said. "Because it is such a unique art form, I feel it will greatly expand Heather's life experience."
Heather finally left Kauai and came back to the area to focus on starting a graphic design business but soon she was seeking out people she could fire dance with. She said most people thought she just walked across hot coals and didn't realize the artistry that goes into the dance. About six months after returning home, she began teaching in the area and now has a small fire dance troop called "Mana Fire."
Jovan Steele is a member of Mana Fire and has been fire dancing for three years.
"The first time I saw it I was amazed and wanted to learn," Steele said.
Steele said the first time she fire danced she broke out in a sweat because she was so nervous. But just like Heather, she said it's like being in a world of your own.
Mana Fire has performed at the Butterfly Festival and Carter Ranch Music Festival in Bootjack the last two years and they will perform at the ranch again this year, accompanied by the Mariposa African Drum Ensemble, at 9 p.m. Saturday. Mana Fire will also perform around 9 p.m. Saturday, June 30 at the North Fork Loggers Jamboree at the North Fork Recreation Center, 33507 Road 230.