Lynne Couillard (AKA Pele)
eats fire; she also is a snake dancer and writes for Internet.
BY STAFF WRITER
- BENNETT J. LOUDON
BATAVIA - Lynne Couillard has made
a career out of her burning desire to excel at the offbeat. The lifelong
resident of this Genesee County city makes a living as a part-time reptile
specialist at a local pet shop, a writer for three Internet sites, a belly
dancer, snake dancer, and, last, but not least, as a fire dancer, eater
She wowed the audience in her first
fire arts show Jan. 12 at the Blue Cross Arena at the Community War Memorial
in Rochester during the Coldrush winter festival. She danced and twirled
flaming torches, then put them in her mouth. And she breathed fire by
spraying a mouthful of fuel over the flame of the torch.
Early in her fire-breathing career,
Couillard was confused about how the audience perceived her act. She would
end a half-hour show and there would be no applause. It turned out that
the crowds were simply frozen in awe. ''I think it's amazing to look at,''
said Couillard's boyfriend, Mark Blance. ''I'm an office worker at Xerox
Corp. I live like (comic strip character) Dilbert, so it's very nice and
exciting for me to have a girlfriend that does things like this,'' he
Unfortunately, Couillard's parents
are not as thrilled by the fire-eating. ''When I first told my mom, she
turned lily white. They don't come to my shows, and I think they're fearful
for me . . . They've seen photographs, but they've never actually seen
me do it,'' Couillard said.
Couillard is a 1991 graduate of
Batavia High School. She studied theater arts and literature at Genesee
As a child, she was fascinated
by magicians, carnivals and circuses. ''I used to pretend to be the lion
tamer or to be the tightrope walker a lot. . . . I was very much fascinated
by the people who chose to put themselves in those positions,'' she said.
''There were people who worked at a skill so diligently that they became
recognized for it, and it was always something very unique, and I thought
that was just amazing,'' she said. She tried her hand at magic and juggling.
''I found that I'm really not good at those,'' she said.
She spent six months researching
fire eating and dancing, then six months practicing before starting to
perform about 18 months ago. ''I get asked continually if it's cold fire,
or fake fire, or if I put something in my mouth or on my skin so I don't
burn, but there's no such thing,'' she said. ''It's literally exactly
what it looks like. I take a flame and put it in my mouth,'' she said.
If there is any ''trick'' to it, it's knowing everything about fire and
fuels. ''I have my timing down. . . . Human flesh has a 5-second leeway
point before it starts to burn,'' she said. Of course, the head start
only applies to a flame, not hot metal, for example.
She burns lamp oil for most of
her show. But she uses white gas (Coleman fuel) to do trailings. That's
when she slides the torch across her skin and the flame is left behind
on her arm for a moment. She can do that because it's the fuel burning,
not her skin. And it's burned off before her skin burns.
''Most people think I'm crazy,''
she said. She did her fire-breathing act at the St. Bonaventure Renaissance
Fair last summer, in addition to her duties as a troupe actor there. And
Couillard was Maggie the Match girl, selling pre-tested matches on the
streets of Skaneateles, Onondaga County, during the Dickens Christmas
festival. It wasn't very hard for Couillard to get bookings after she
signed up with Jim Richmond, director of talent at Pelican Marketing and
Management in East Rochester. A few minutes after he received material
from Couillard in the mail in the fall, he got a telephone call from someone
seeking a very visual act, and she was booked. About an hour later, a
Rochester city official called and she was booked for the Coldrush event.
''I really believe there is a strong
possibility for her to make a strong living off this,'' Richmond said.
Couillard charges a few hundred dollars for a simple show, but her rates
depend on the job. ''Lynne has always been a top-notch, top-quality performer,''
said Steven Dornan, producer of the St. Bonaventure fair and former producer
of the Dickens Christmas event. ''Children, most of all, seem to get totally
lost in watching what she does,'' Dornan said.
But Couillard, who has a 6-year-old
son, Noah, understands she has a responsibility to emphasize to children
in her audience the safety precautions she takes. ''When I first started,
(Noah) said that the fire scared him. Since then, he's kind of nonchalant.
To him, it's no big deal,'' she said. ''It's very difficult for him because
in school they teach fire safety, and then he comes home and he sees me
doing this. He actually has his own set of toys that are not flammable.
I'm teaching him to do these things without the fire,'' she said.
She has explained to him all the
safety measures she takes - having a fire extinguisher and heavy blanket
nearby in case she has to smother flames. He sees that she practices without
fire. He also joined her at a meeting of about 20 fire breathers in Vermont.
''He saw that everybody there did it very safely. We all sat down and
explained it to him and said we don't get burned because we practice,
and we did a lot of reading and talked to a lot of people, and it kind
of sunk in,'' she said.