It was 6:15 on a breezy November evening. I sat outside the restaurant, eagerly awaiting her arrival. Suddenly, there she stood, her long red hair cascading down past her shoulders and a smile so effervescent and bright, it was hard to imagine she had just come from a full day of work.
April DeBord is one-of-a-kind. Adventurous, charismatic, intelligent, passionate and ridiculously creative are just a few ways of describing the artist I was sitting across from over our dinner interview. To be honest, when I first scheduled our chat, I thought I was only going to be talking with DeBord about her firedancing. Granted, that would have been plenty enough to keep me intrigued; however, it was just the tip of the iceberg.
Originally born in Akron, Ohio, DeBord is an artist who has dabbled in a variety of mediums. “I tend to get bored easily,” explains Debord over her linguine alfredo. “I like to try out a little of everything.” DeBord is a painter, professional photographer and has even published a book. She is also an avid traveler, with her great love being road trips. “I love to travel all around the U.S. and outside of the country. And I love to document my travels through photography and my writings. While I’m in different places, even some as extreme as the South American jungles, I will stop and do a fire dance,” states DeBord. Her goal, in fact, is to travel to every continent and fire dance. And I do believe, DeBord will achieve this.
DeBord combined her love for traveling with photography through a book she published in January of 2011. “Heads Toward the River!” is a visually stunning and beautifully written volume of DeBord’s adventures through the jungles of Columbia. This self-proclaimed adrenalin junky spent ten days sleeping in hammocks admist oversized insects and venomous snakes. DeBord joined an adventure/travel group out of Tampa and quickly made friends with folks she had never met. The gregarious and cordial artist also met with another interesting group while on her travels. The Kogi Indian tribe was a significant part of DeBord’s South American excursion. “I loved the Indians. We sat around in huts with them and got to learn their culture,” reflects DeBord. One of the adventurist’s favorite memories of her trip was being able to climb all 1200 steps to “The Lost City,” or Ciudad Perdida. The location is considered to be quite magical in many respects. However, DeBord’s journey offered a lot more than just enchanting jungle sites or sacred Indian villages. “We had to trek through the jungles by mules. It wasn’t always easy,” explains DeBord. She also recalls having a couple very close encounters with snakes and enduring a painful knee injury. “I was thankful for our travel guides. They were amazing, always there to help us in a difficult or scary situation,” remembers DeBord. One of DeBord’s most daunting moments was while walking through a river. “We often had to trek through rivers, but none were very deep. However, there was one river that nearly swept me away. It was treacherous and we had to hold on to each other to pass it. There was a spot in the river that took a sudden drop and it was very deep. I was in shock, as the water was freezing cold. My guide was there to save me. He really took hold of me and grabbed me,” recalls DeBord.
Personally, I was rather amazed at this young woman’s Columbian adventure. It was all very Romancing the Stone-from Indians and snakes to dangerous rivers and mysterious jungle destinations. And if you don’t think you have what it takes to trek through the jungles, but would love to visit vicariously through DeBord, simply check out her book. It can be found at http://www.blurb.com/user/store/Apryl00.
Though DeBord’s travels may seem extreme, she also likes to just jump in her car and drive around from city to city, state to state. Recently, the road tripper drove solo to all the New England states, minus Connecticut. “All the states were so beautiful, but I really loved Maine,” states DeBord. The daredevil naturalist even climbed Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine. “I love to hike and climb mountains.”
So, was DeBord born with wanderlust, or did she somehow acquire the love of traveling as she got older? “I lived in Alaska for a while and it changed me. It made me really want to explore the world. I loved it. Somehow, living there, opened me up; it freed my spirit. I was born in Ohio, moved to Florida when I was eight, and then years later in July of 2000, I got myself a one-way ticket to Alaska. I was with a man at the time who was in the Coast Guard. We had to live there. I was worried about moving there initially, but I ended up loving it. It was incredible. I developed a love for exploration during this time, as well as for photography. I felt creative,” fondly remembers DeBord. The beauty of the rugged Alaskan wilderness was breathtaking and inspirational for the emerging artist. Then, just two years later, DeBord packed up whatever she could fit into her car and took off on a road trip with a couple of her friends. First, they went to New York, then to Florida, camping and making other fun stops along the way. In the end, they finished their venture at DeBord’s home state of Ohio.
I had to ask DeBord, if she could go to one dream destination in her travels, where would it be. “Oh, I have so many places yet that I would love to discover, but if I had to narrow down my list it would be New Zealand or maybe Africa for a safari. Another place I have to go one day would be Bali,” answered DeBord.
If the artist isn’t on one of her many adventures, she may very well be taking pictures. DeBord is a professional photographer, after all. She earned a BFA in Photography at the University of Akron, along with a minor in Professional Photography and Computer Graphics. Today, DeBord owns Inner Sanctum Photography and specializes in unique portraits, fine art nudes, wildlife/nature and pet photography. She also does amazing black and whites, in addition to her color shots. DeBord further mentions that she does hand coloring, upon request, for any of her black and white photos. The photographer came up with the name, Inner Sanctum, because for her it means a place of calmness and peace inside the mind and soul. DeBord explains that the words translate roughly into “mind den.” For more information on DeBord’s photography, or to schedule a sitting, visit her website at www.innersanctumphotography.com.
DeBord also keeps busy with her everyday job, which is working at HSN, here in Tampa Bay. For all of you home shoppers, HSN is your one and only go-to place. At DeBord’s “day” job, she works as a freelance post-production artist- just something else the artist can do to spark her creativity and keep herself from getting bored.
To me, DeBord is synonymous with an onion; peel and onion and you will find lots of layers. This fascinating thirty-something may indeed, wear a lot of hats; however, her most well-known hat is perhaps the one she wears during fire dancing, symbolically speaking.
DeBord began fire dancing in 2004. ” I took a trip to Key West with a friend of mine and we went to Mallory Square at sunset to watch the street performers. I saw a couple doing fire dancing and said to my friend, ‘I have to do this!’ After the two were finished dancing, I approached them and asked them about it. When I returned home, I went online. I learned a lot about fire dancing just by watching YouTube videos for six months. Then, I started practicing with my roommate at the time. When I first started, I used glow sticks so I wouldn’t hurt myself. I eventually began using fire once I became more comfortable,” explains DeBord. “The second time I did fire dancing was at my family’s annual Halloween party in Ohio. Contrary to what people think, I don’t spend all my time fire dancing. I’m afraid I would get too burnt out! I like to keep things fresh. I do love fire dancing though.”
Fire dancing is an ancient performance art. For those who are not familiar, it is a beautiful and creative way of manipulating fire, and more specifically, objects set on fire through dance. Objects, such as fans and staffs have wicks, which are soaked in fuel and then ignited. The art form, obviously, is quite dangerous so it is crucial to take precautions while dancing. Poi is fire dancing performed with a ball in each hand, suspended by a plaited cord (or chain). It is then spun in circular and other acrobatic patterns. Poi is also a traditional art performance of the Maori people who live in New Zealand, a group that DeBord would love to one day meet in person. The Maori, however, never used fire while dancing; instead, the Americans were the first to light the match.
Poi began many years ago in New Zealand and for the purpose of increasing flexibility and strength in the hands and arms of the Maori people. It was also excellent for improving coordination. Poi dance was originally used by the Maori women for keeping their hands flexible for tasks such as weaving.
The wicks used in fire poi come in a variety of materials, most commonly, KEVLAR. The material is a man-made organic fiber. If used correctly and is well taken care of, KEVLAR will last and can then be used numerous times. According to DeBord, it is also the same stuff that firemen’s suits are made out of.
DeBord performs wherever and whenever. In fact, she has a few YouTube videos of herself performing at an old, abandoned Orlando amusement park called Splendid China. DeBord felt inspired while inside the park, and even though she didn’t have music, she often would just dance to the sound of the wind. Splendid China has since been razed, but DeBord still cherishes many of her memories performing there inside the cracked and decaying walls and corridors. Over time, DeBord has danced at proms, private Halloween events and birthday parties. She was once asked to lead the very famous Guavaween parade in Ybor City, Florida. In addition, DeBord performs at her favorite venue, her family’s Ohio Halloween party. “I’ve been asked to do many events, but unfortunately, there are a lot of fire restrictions that do not allow me to participate. Fire codes are tough. When I was asked to do Guavaween, I had to have a Fire Marshall on each side of me at all times. It was pretty expensive in the end to hire all three of us, so I ended up not walking in the parade. I really regret that,” states DeBord.
DeBord generally goes by the name RED, especially when she is fire dancing. It is a nickname that she acquired while visiting New York years ago. “While I was there, a group of obnoxious New Yorkers kept screaming out to me, ‘Hey Red!’ It was because of my bright red hair. This was while I was in college, and now years later, I still go by the name. It’s perfect for my fire dancing.”
When DeBord fire dances, she captivates. “I use belly dancing with the element of fire. I also like to experiment with objects such as fans. I would like to get a fire jump rope to use in my routine. I would use it to swirl around me, not to jump over. I think it would look very cool,” explains the fire goddess .
Since fire dancing is considered to be such an intense performance art, I couldn’t help but wonder, has DeBord ever been burned? Well, as the old adage goes, if you play with fire, you get burned. “I usually don’t get hurt too badly, but once I got badly burned when a Poi wrapped around my arm and got stuck. I actually could feel my skin melting off of my arm until I was able to pull it off. It happened during a performance, but I just kept on going and played it off like nothing was wrong. Everyone thought it was just part of my act. Today, I will just get the occasional superficial burn, which tends to heal pretty quickly. When I first started my fire dancing, I used to frequently singe my hair. Now I use a scarf or put in dreads!”
DeBord brings her fire dancing along with her on many travels, as stated previously. Her most beloved fire destination, thus far, being the DeBord Halloween Party. The annual event just celebrated its 16th successful year and now has over 150 special guests. It all started back in 1995 in the backyard of DeBord’s brother’s house. The party was modest and only a few family members and close friends were invited. “My brother started it as a family thing. It started in the backyard and then migrated all over the house and past it. It just kept getting bigger and better with each year. It became a street party,” states DeBord. “It then got so big, the police told us we had to stop it as a street party and move it to a bigger location. What once started out with just a few people, soon had become an event of over a thousand.” The party takes place typically the first or second weekend in October and there is always plenty to see while there. An extravagant list of vendors and performers are on hand to entertain the crowds. “We have jugglers, bellydancers, hearses, paranormal investigation groups, bands, costumed characters and so much more,” DeBord proudly tells me. DeBord performs her fire dance at sunset. And although the party is great fun, there is quite a bit involved. “My brother and I are in charge of it and there are a lot of responsiblities for us. I do the fire dancing, but also take many of the photos. I have to worry about putting things out, such as decorations, and taking it all down in the end. We had to move it from the street to the VFW.” All the hard work that the DeBords put into their party, sure is apparent in the end. It is, by far, one of the most outstanding and elaborate of its kind. If in the Akron, Ohio area next October, make sure you stop by. It’s a great way to celebrate the bewitching season; the party is safe, family-friendly and best of all, free.
There is no doubt that DeBord is a stand-out kind of gal. She knows what she wants in life and is not afraid to go after it. She is strong and ambitious; kind and lovable. DeBord is, indeed, unique and I mean that in the very best of ways. A creative and free spirit that inspires and encourages everyone she meets. A most talented artist and a most caring friend.
After our meal, I realized that our interview never really was one in the first place. It was more like a dinner with a long lost buddy. Or, maybe it was like some sort of self-reflection. Perhaps DeBord represents a small part which exists deep within each and every one of us- our adventurous side, our risk taking side, our creativity. Talking with this amazing artist was an awakening. Life is far too short. We need to live each day to its fullest; try new experiences and to not be afraid to learn something new. Don’t just add on to your Bucket List- start scratching things off! Not surprisingly, DeBord is doing just that…and more.
For more information on the annual DeBord Halloween party, please visit www.debordhalloweenparty.com.
To see DeBord performing some of her fire dancing routines, including those done at Splendid China, please visit her YouTube channel found at www.youtube.com/AprylRED
If interested in learning more about DeBord, please “like” her at www.facebook.com/FANSofRED.