20 QUESTIONS WITH FIRE HOOP DANCER CLAIRE FRENCH

When you think of entertainers, you think of actors, dancers, singers, pretty much what the media puts an emphasis on. The reality is, the definition of entertainment is much more than that. To entertain is to make others happy by your creative expression. Creativity is vast and many people from all walks of life spread their talent and joy around the world. Today, we head down to New Zealand to talk to Claire French. Fire hoop dancer originally from Manchester, UK who found the freedom and passion to express herself in New Zealand and make her mark in the world. Using performance art to help others through charity and social projects in her community.  For those of you who want to leave off the grid, doing what you love, but are afraid to take the first step, please, read on!

When viewers click onto your website, the first paragraph they get to see tells us all about EVERYTHING you do. And I must say, its an impressive list! What drew you to the arts?

Lol thanks! When I was younger my childhood was challenging. I got into drama and theatre as it gave me the chance to escape my life. Then I found out about the Paul McCartney Fame School, and I was lucky enough to gain a place on the community arts course. The fire and hula hooping came later... When I moved to Manchester and then when I travelled to Asia.

You're originally from Manchester, England. What is it about New Zealand that made you think "Oh this is home"?

The people, my tribe! The people here are the loveliest warmest people on earth and are into everything! Nature, tramping, fires, insane projects and building, festivals and spirituality! There is such BIG nature here, and the lifestyle is better than anywhere I've had the pleasure of living!

I watched a small docuvideo about you and watched you perform your fire routine and playing your guitar. You have this amazing smile as you perform. What are you feeling as you are in the moment?

Thank you! I try and spread happiness and joy through my performance. No one wants to watch a 'suffering artist' - moody just doesn't do it for me! I try and instill this into the kids I teach too.

We are normally expected to conform to society especially by what we see in the media and what we hear from peers. You definitely follow your own path. Was that an easy choice for you? What are your thoughts on mainstream media and how it relates or doesnt relate to what you and your fellow artist peers do?

I wanted to get away from the UK as fast as possible... and I was lucky that fire and festivals were my way out! I've always been outside of the box and it comes naturally to me. I really struggled with this in school but once I got to college I found people who were similar. Ive always skirted on the peripheral of lots of different groups, but here in NZ I really feel I've found my tribe, my Whanau (family in Maori). I love the people here! I dont really deal with mainstream media at all. Ive never owned a TV and I don't read newspapers, I think a lot of it is rubbish and we are told what they want us to think. I really like what you are doing with your publication as its different!

From watching the video, it looks like you live in a really cool tiny house. Is this "off the grid" living as they say? How are you liking it?

Yes I do! I built it from a flatbed trailer up! It was the biggest and hardest thing I've ever done in my life! I dont think it will ever be finished! I am lucky to live in a community where we live communally in the big house but I have the option to be self contained when I need some space. I absolutely love it - I used to live in the big house but found it a bit hard as I like my own space and it is a bit too noisy and busy for me so this is the best of both worlds! I got it roadworthy this week so I'll be taking it on site for a month when we go and build the temple for Kiwi Burn this summer - NZs version of burning man! for more info you can check out the blog about it - www.nomadikz.com

Wow being on site for a month! That's commitment! What do you get out of performing? What do you want spectators to get from the show you put on?

I really prefer teaching to performing. I love helping people find their passion and nail new tricks and props! Performing wise I do love fire, it feels like an extension of my body now I've done it for so long - but I prefer having a spin with friends to doing big shows! People love my smile and energy - I am quite silly and full power when I perform - and also some of the skills I have are quite unique! Like spinning a fire hoop round my top hat on fire! I guess people enjoy that too! 

You mentioned you got to get your tiny house on the road. Tell us a little about that.

It passed its WOF (warrant of fitness) this week! We had a night at the beach and then towed it back home! We'll be taking it to kiwi burn festival as we'll be on site for a month! Its a ton and a half so its not something you tow all over the country (I have a Universe Camper van for that!) but for long hauls its great!

Tell us about the Community Arts and Circus Trust New Zealand.   (Check them out here www.cactnz.weebly.com)

We set up our own charitable trust a few years ago. Three friends: me, Rohana and Emma,  who come from circus backgrounds but also social, youth, medical and intellectually disabled backgrounds. We wanted to combine our love of circus with our love for making a difference in the world - 'social circus' is a wonderful way to approach social work in a successful and therapeutic (and fun!) way... especially with the young people in my experience! We also use the trust to run our circus festival 'Under The Spinfluence' where everyone who is involved is a volunteer and does it because they love flow arts and circus so much! Its an amazing event... the next one is December 2016 in Wellington! - our website is www.underthespinfluence.com 

What drew you to fire hooping? 

I love fire hoop! I started doing hoop dance some years ago when a friend discovered it and setting the hoops on fire seemed a good way to go as I've been a fire poi spinner for a long time! I recently got into fire fans. They are really good fun, and super tech and harder than they look!

Any scary moments performing?

Yes once my costume caught on fire - a few burns here and there (kind of comes with the territory!) but nothing too serious!

For many of our readers self esteem is something we all work very hard to maintain. What really helps you and your self esteem?

Keeping active! I find that if I do physical activity, even if its just some gentle yoga, it helps me to be fully in my body and to remain positive. 

I love festivals. What is it about festivals that make you so happy? What do you get out of them?

The community. The tribe involved. I always work the festivals, even if its just volunteering for something as I really love to be part of them. The people really make the festival for me. All night fire spinning. Kiwis really know how to have a good time, support each other and work hard! 

You actually run some festivals yourself! What do you want to give the people in these festivals? Who would you want performing at these festivals?

I do run festivals yes. I have done for many years - from big production gigs with UK festivals to tiny community circus festivals! It really is where I am in my element. We have had international artists perform at our festivals here from all over the world! Places such as Europe, USA, Australia and Canada! 

As a curvy gal, style is always something that seems difficult to attain through mainstream shopping for many of us. You have a fabulous unique look. How did you find what made you happy in your own skin?

I am really really lucky to have very very talented friends! Most of my costumes are made to measure, my fave designer here is Amy of Twisted Stitches! I started off doing alternative modelling for 'Technodolly' - a UK based alt / faery ware company... and it kind of grew from there!

Being curvy, plus sized, or just not "the norm" (whatever that means) has made it difficult for artists to show off their talent and be accepted and respected. How do you feel about this topic in general?

I think its really stupid. People come in all shapes and sizes. People assume because you are curvy you are ugly, or unfit, or not up to the job. I am very fit! I am totally up to the job! I have had some interesting responses from people when I say I'm a dancer and dance teacher for a living. We need to shift the expectation that only thin is healthy! Because sometimes it totally is, but so is curvy! 

For those who want to find happiness just being themselves, what advice would you give them?

If you can laugh and sweat everyday, you are living a good life :-) For me life is a series of experiences... go out and have as many as you can!

Im sure you have a lot of children come and see your shows. What do you hope they get out of your performances?

I love children coming to my shows, and I love to teach them. It gives them a positive role model, instead of all the glossy magazines!  They are usually pretty wowed and spend the whole time trying to impress me afterwards, its really cute and awesome, I love working with kids, especially those who have a hard time, as those are the ones who need it the most.

You work with a lot of artists and from what I see you clearly want that bond and support system to be prevalent in the artist community. Almost like a mentor to artists. What do you want other aspiring artists who work with you to get from this community atmosphere?

The flow arts and circus community is strong and supportive globally, especially here in NZ as its so small. I know in other countries for some people it has become competitive with people trying to compete with each other and undercut each other - and to stop sharing, in case someone else becomes better than you.  Its a real shame. I got into this because of the community - I hope that people around the world can work together and share like we do here in NZ! 

You have mentioned to me a desire to be self employed. I know its a goal of mine as it is with many of our readers. Can you talk a little bit about your experience achieving that goal of yours? 

I have just gone back to being self employed after a year and a half contract at the circus trust. It feels truly special to be here again! Its hard work and you have to put in a lot of time off your own back and be very self motivated but there is nothing better than the freedom of working for yourself in things that you believe in. I am very lucky to have found that thing! The best way to be successful with self employment is to hustle, all the time! Always carry business cards, get yourself out there, get noticed, work hard, the rest will follow! And always believe in yourself. If you had told me 20 years ago i'd be living on the other side of the world hula hooping for a living I would have thought you were mad! Everything is possible!

Finally Claire, what do you feel is important for those readers out there to know about being yourself and being happy?

Keep active, eat well, do things for other people and live in your truth! Make time for your loved ones. Get out into nature. Take time out from the world. Get rid of your smart phone (I am an advocator of the brick phone!) All the rest will follow :-)


Natalia McCarty is a plus sized, creative, and talented wizard who resides in NYC. Kinetically entertaining, her creativity knows no limits. Just some of her projects: lead singer in rock band, the Mighty JSE, Indie-film actress, 5 seasons on ITTV sketch comedy group, blogger and plus-size model. Follow her as she spreads her wings and swoops down to embark on a magical journey of artistry and fashion from around the world!