Professor by day, fire dancer by night

Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie ASU professor Patrick Young turns to fire dancing to gain better insight on how to express the subjects he teaches and to learn how to better epress himself. | Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

When ASU professor Patrick Young picked up fire dancing, he found a new way to express himself.

To fire dance is to be emotive. This presents somewhat of a challenge for Young, who has Autistic Spectrum Disorder, which makes it difficult for him to emote.

“When I fire dance, I’m not in an intellectual space, I’m very much within the flow of things,” Young says. “That’s given me insight how I can better convey my emotions in the classroom for the subjects I talk about.”



Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie In addition to fire dancing, Young and his wife Karen Young also belly dance. | Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Fire dancing came almost natural to Young as it only took him about four to six weeks to become proficient. | Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

His wife, Karen, picked up belly dancing in grad school and continued practicing once they relocated to Arizona in 2008. Soon, she found a studio where she could continue her hobby, and by coincidence, a class on fire dancing existed within the same space.

Since they carpooled together, while he was there Young took it upon himself to pick up the hobby, in addition to belly dancing.

Some other hobbies he enjoys include jewelry making, photography and hiking. Young likes to attempt unusual things, and, for him, fire dancing fits that description.

“Originally it was something to try that I didn’t know where it would go, but I had something of a talent for [fire] staff and it was a lot of fun. It’s a little bit of a physics problem [with] angular momentum,” Young says. “Very much to my surprise, I enjoyed performing.”

The length of time it takes for people to perfect twirling the staff varies. Yet it only took Young four to six weeks of practicing to become proficient, the same techniques he says it takes others months to learn. He credits this to the type of fire staff he started using for practice. The staff, which all learners begin with, just felt right to him.

The topic of Young performing professionally at events, such as at Phoenix Comic Con (although without the fire, for obvious reasons), burlesque shows, DiscWorld, comes up more with his graduate students than with the undergraduates in his introductory astronomy courses.

Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

Yet, it does occasionally weave its way into these undergraduate lectures. The staff that he uses presents a good demonstration tool for comprehension of a difficult topic like momentum.

Presently, he practices at least once a week. It serves him when learning new techniques on different types of staffs, such as the dragon staff, which he is still perfecting. In the intervening years, he has tried out many types of staffs and other instruments to dance with, such as double staffs, hula-hoops and palm tree branches.

“If you can think of a way someone can set something on fire to play with, someone has already done it,” Young says.

Reach the reporter at or follow him on Twitter @TaylorFromPhx

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