Feeling the heat: Behind-the-scenes with Ember Fire Arts

As a fire performer, Amber Kornegay, owner and performer for Ember Fire Arts, often walks the line between being intriguing for people and seeming intimidating. However, at the heart of it all she is a simple girl with a passion for fire. We sat down with Amber and asked her ten questions that people are often afraid to ask her, but always curious to know the answer to. Catch one of her shows at the N.C. State Fair either at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. down in Heritage Circle and keep reading to learn all about her passion, show and inspirations!

Question 1: How many times have you been burned?

“I get burned almost every show,” Amber said. “I’ve only been burned really bad a total of five times, but it’s nearly impossible for me to not burn myself or my clothing during each show.” Amber doesn’t use any special fire-resistant clothing during her performances, but always strives to be as careful as she can to not catch herself or her clothes on fire. One of her worst burns actually happened earlier this year, when one of her props, fire poi, wrapped around her forearm, giving her second degree burns. “That happened during the very first show of my season this year,” she said. “I knew that it was bad but I had to keep going. I not only finished out that show but my second show of the night as well. The N.C. State Fair is only the second fair this year I’ve been able to perform at without having my arm bandaged up.” Lucky for Amber, she has a pretty high pain tolerance, so the minor burns are normally a small price to pay for doing what she loves.

Amber using fire poi during a performance at the N.C. State Fair

Question 2: Have you ever been burned so bad that you considered quitting?

“Not yet,” Amber laughed. “If I got burnt bad enough I might, but I am so passionate about fire performing and I love it so much that I think it would take a lot for me to consider quitting.” In addition to having a high pain tolerance, Amber’s passion fuels her fire for each show. She has worked hard to get to where she is today, and as far as she can see, nothing is going to stop her from continuing to chase her dreams and grow her business.

Question 3: When was the first time that you performed in front of people and how did it go?

“Well, my first performance was at the Black Bear Festival in Plymouth,” Amber said, “but, my manager wanted me to practice performing in front of an audience prior to that. So, my first true show was for my entire neighborhood. My manager called everyone together and made me run through the whole show for them. It was super embarrassing!” Amber did not catch herself on fire during her first show, but she did stumble over her words here and there. “Honestly, I get very nervous about the speaking part of my show for two reasons: (1) I am not a great public speaker and (2) what I say during the show matters, especially the inspirational/motivational speech at the end of the show, and I want to make sure I get it perfect.” Although performing for her neighbors was not Amber’s ideal situation, it did prepare her for the Black Bear Festival in Plymouth and every show since.

Question 4: Do you still get nervous before each show?

“Absolutely,” Amber said! “I still get super nervous, but not shaky nervous like I was when I first started.” In fact, she often gets more nervous about the speaking part of the show than the actual fire performance. “Believe it or not, the fire is almost like a security blanket to me at this point,” she said. “Although it is dangerous and I always face risks walking into each show, I get far less nervous about the fire performance than I do about the public speaking portion.”

Question 5: What’s the scariest prop to use and why?

“Honestly I have three answers to that question,” she said. “The Dragon Staff for burning myself, the Hulu Hoop Fire Ring for audience safety, and the fire eating for health reasons.” The Dragon Staff is Amber’s newest prop and puts off a lot of fire and heat during use. Both of these reasons make it one of the ways that Amber can burn herself the easiest. However, the Hulu Hoop Fire Ring poses more of a visual risk for Amber as the flames dance around her. “I always put out the disclaimer for the audience that my vision is very blurred during the show due to the fire and flames,” she said. “I worry about the Hulu Hoop prop the most in that aspect because I literally have fire all around me. I can also loose control of it easier than any of the other props.” Lastly, fire eating poses the biggest risk to Amber’s health, which is addressed in the following question.

Question 6: What’s your biggest fear?

“Catching chemical pneumonia or flashing my lungs,” Amber said, “both of which can happen if fire eating is not done properly.” Chemical pneumonia is basically a higher form of pneumonia that often presents symptoms similar to the flu in addition to traditional pneumonia symptoms, like coughing and shortness of breath. It happens when the chemicals from the flames are not flushed properly from the body. Flashing of the lungs happens when the flame is not properly extinguished and literally travels down the esophagus and into the lungs, flashing them and causing them to collapse. “I’ve had a friend that this happened too and she is totally out of the fire performing business now,” Amber said. “Not only is it super painful and scary, but it also changes the way that your body functions and breathes for the rest of your life. That’s why it takes anyone out of commission from the performing business if they experience it.” Fire eating and breathing are the only two stunts that Amber was professionally trained to do as a precaution and attempt at avoiding either of these terrifying circumstances.

Question 7: If fire performing is what you do for a living, what are your hobbies?

“I’m actually a very simple person at heart,” Amber laughed. “Four wheeling and spending time with my family are my biggest passions outside of work.”

Question 8: If fire performing was not your career, what would you be doing?

“During my off season I work at Performance East in Goldsboro,” she said. “I am actually an Assistant Manager there, so I would probably be doing that full time.” Performance East sells ATV’s, personal watercraft, motorcycles, boats and more. “Not only do I love being around all of the vehicles and amazing equipment since that’s my hobby, but I love the entire team of employees,” Amber said. “They are like a second family to me.”

Question 9: What’s the worst misconception that you face as a female fire performer?

“I get misinterpreted a lot as a fire dancer instead of a fire performer, and there is a distinct difference,” Amber said. “Since this profession is a very male dominant world, people often want the women to be presented in a more sexy element, which is not how I want to be seen. Dancing is commonly seen as a more elegant or sexy profession, but I am not a dancer. I am a performer.” Amber grew up in a single parent household, being raised by her mother. As a child, Amber watched her mother work in a male dominant industry, so she learned at a young age that women can do just about anything that men can. “I very much grew up in a man’s world,” she said, “and I am still a firm believer that, although women may not be as physically strong as men, we can do anything we set our minds too, male dominant industry or not.”

Question 10: What’s your biggest goal for yourself and Ember Fire Arts?

“I would like to broaden the range of my show,” she said. “Right now I am solely in North Carolina, but I would love to expand to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee.” Amber is already working towards this goal with shows booked directly after this fair in South Carolina and Georgia! “I also have a goal to start my own studio once I retire from performing to teach the next generation of fire performers,” she said. “I would teach using LED props and allow them to learn in a safe environment before graduating to fire. I also wouldn’t teach fire breathing or fire eating due to the liability risks. However, I would love to teach and inspire people to learn this beautiful art and carry on performing long after I am gone.”

Visit Amber down in Heritage Circle tonight or tomorrow at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. to see her show and learn all about the art of fire performance. We are so glad to have her here at the N.C. State Fair and look forward to seeing where the future takes her and her career with Ember Fire Arts.

About Rollercoaster

"Life is short, so do the things you love with the people you love." Rollercoaster is the fair-themed nickname for Taylor Harris, an information and communications specialist in the Public Affairs Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. An alumni of N.C. State University and former Marketing and Sales Assistant with Scott Farms, a sixth-generation family farm out of Lucama, NC, she is no stranger to the world of agriculture. Football and singing are her biggest passions. While at the fair, her "must do" items are a pineapple smoothie from Tropical Delight and a ride on the Fireball, now referred to as F5.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *