By Eric Santiago
HOLTSVILLE, NY — February 17, 2014
Over the blaring electronic thrum of Avicii’s “Levels,” Cheryl Ruebner struggles to make her voice heard.
“The community is growing,” she said. “People see that it looks like fun, and they want to join.”
Ruebner, who goes by the stage name, Ember Fox, runs the the Spin Jam Mondays! Facebook group with her boyfriend, Josh Sullivan. The two host events that foster a community of spin artists, a blanket term that refers to dancers who use props in their performances. Swords, staffs, hula hoops and more are all on the table.
Hosted in a warehouse not far from the Long Island Expressway, Spin Jam Mondays! meetings are an entrancing combination of dancing, hookah and friends enjoying each other’s company. Adorned with graffiti, the warehouse comes to life as the dancer’s LED illuminated props cut through shadows when the lights are turned down.
With a showing of at least 25 people, the meeting on Feb. 17 drew more than half of those who said they were going on the Facebook group. Many of those who attended weren’t even in the group to begin with.
“I found out through my friend who has been coming for a long time,” said Ben Behrenfeld, a student at Suffolk County Community College who has been coming to the gatherings since December. “I’m just trying to get the basics down, and starting to play around.”
Behrenfeld has begun experimenting with poi, essentially a ball attached to a string that can be spun around in an arcing motion. Behrenfeld’s poi are equipped with LED bulbs that allow them to glow in the dark, but many spin art props are designed to shine in a very different way.
For most of the meeting, Sullivan performed his routine with a dragon staff, which is supposed to be lit on fire when used, hence the dragon in the name. Despite having experience with actively-on-fire props, Ruebner and Sullivan are still waiting on legal approval to practice with fire indoors.
But not all of the performers were using glowing props. Steven Bonsignore and Eric Vanderbeck were practicing their juggling skills on top of an abandoned stage, complete with drum set.
“They made me take a phys ed class at school,” said Bonsignore, a graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology. “I saw juggling, and decided to try it. It’s been four years since then.”
Bonsignore ended up studying under Jeff Peden, the father of famed juggler Wes Peden, who has won several awards from the International Juggling Association.
Vanderbeck discovered a similar passion when his mother taught him how to juggle when he was 14. Later on he formed a circus arts group when he went to college at SUNY Binghamton.
Vanderbeck was able able to discover the group purely through Facebook, but word of mouth for the group is spreading.
“It’s still underground,” said Erika Bansen, a founding member of the group. “But it’s a lot bigger than I thought.”
Bansen’s journey into spin arts began when she fell for a fire performer at a party. Since then, it’s been the robust community that has kept her around.
“We inspire each other,” she said.