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Renee Redenshek, a sophomore studying child and family studies, demonstrates her fire hula hoop in the courtyard of Palmer Place on March 7. 

Student performer brings fire to fest season

Renee Redenshek started fire hooping after Christmas and hasn't burned herself once.

Of hundreds of partygoers at the Palmer Place on Feb. 20, one lit up the night — Renee Redenshek, who performed for the crowd with a flaming hula hoop.
Redenshek, a sophomore studying childhood and family studies, said she picked the courtyard at Palmer Place Apartments as a good place to practice, and that there just happened to be a party that night. She showed up, soaked the cylindrical wicks attached to the outside of her hoop in kerosene, lit them and started spinning it.

“You’re inside a tornado of fire, pretty much,” Redenshek said. “It’s warm, and it’s loud. I think the most intimidating part is how loud it is.”

Redenshek got started with regular hula hooping last year. She had been cheer captain at Perry High School but didn’t have time to pursue college cheerleading. Hooping helped her release the energy she used to use for cheer, she said.

But the first time she tried hooping with actual fire, it wasn’t by choice. She saw a girl performing at a fairground, and the girl noticed her watching.

“She was like, ‘Oh, I see you looking at my fire hoop. I know you want to try it,’ " Redenshek said. “I was like, ‘No, I don’t. I’m scared. I’ve never done it,’ and she was like, ‘Yeah you do. You better put your hair up, 'cause I’m putting it over you right now.’ "

The girl lowered the fire hoop over her and gave her a piece of advice: Don’t do anything you couldn’t do with your eyes closed.

For Christmas, Redenshek's boyfriend’s father bought her a fire hoop of her own and bought her boyfriend a fire poi set. Fire poi involves a tether with a Kevlar-wrapped weight at the end that the performer swings through the air. She and her boyfriend, Cameron Winters, a Hocking College sophomore, began to teach each other how to perform with fire.

Redenshek said she and Winters went to the same elementary, middle and high school together. They went on their first date together in sixth grade.

Redenshek practices hooping about every day, she said, but not with fire. Practicing without it allows her to polish advanced tricks she isn’t ready to perform just yet, such as throwing the hoop up and catching it.

“I could do it tomorrow if I was brave enough to,” she said. “I can do it with a regular hoop. It’s just, you get nervous to do it because it’s on fire.”

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She has never caught her hair or clothes on fire, but she said Winters has.

“Just really quickly, though,” Redenshek said. “Just for a second.”

Redenshek’s friend, Kellyn Hickle, a sophomore, said she didn’t get to see Redenshek's impromptu performance at Palmer Place but saw images of her performing on Snapchat. Hickle hoops herself, but not with fire.

“I thought it was really cool because I’m sure none of the people who were there have ever really seen this form of artwork ... because there’s not like a huge group of people, but there is a certain crowd who does this stuff,” Hickle said. "There’s definitely a majority of people who don’t know what this is."

Redenshek ties her hair up to keep it from catching fire, but otherwise, she trusts the speed at which the flames move to keep her from getting burned. It’s worked for her so far, but Hickle said she’s seen accidents befall other people. Last year after a fest, she saw a friend catch his face on fire.

“We were watching him like, ‘Oh, yeah,’ and then his whole face was just in flames,” Hickle said.

Her friend didn’t go to a hospital and didn’t suffer long term injuries, she said.

“He was fine, but not fine,” Hickle said. “He definitely had scabs and some burns on his face. I’ve seen a lot worse than that.”

She said the Athens Fire Department showed up shortly after the accident.

“They were like, ‘You definitely need to stop now,’ " Hickle said. “In my mind, they think it’s a lot more dangerous than it is."

Athens Police Department Chief Tom Pyle said someone performing with fire possibly could be charged with some sort of misdemeanor offense, but APD officers most likely would ask the person to stop or move to a safer location.

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"We’ve done that before," Pyle said. "We had one street performer who was swinging some kind of a burning thing on a chain. We typically tell them where to do it or where not to do it."

Redenshek said knowing of the incidents with other performers didn't make her reconsider her hobby.

“I still wouldn’t do anything I wasn’t comfortable with,” Redenshek said. “Like, accidents do happen, I guess, but…”

“If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned,” Hickle interrupted. “It’s kind of inevitable.”

“Right,” Redenshek said, and laughed.


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