[Photo Credit: Michael Dunn]
Give it up for the next entry in our “Ticketfly Talent” series, which spotlights the many folks at the ‘fly who create beautiful art outside of work. We’ve got loads of musicians, DJs, singers, and artists of all types who are Flyers by day and rock stars by night (though we tend to think they’re rock stars 24/7). They’re awesome, and we want the world to know.
Today, we’re sitting down with Vanessa Bello, our front-office admin a.k.a. the Gatekeeper of Ticketfly. On nights and weekends, however, she’s known as Lionessa, a badass fire dancer who performs at festivals and events throughout the region with the Ministry of Flow. Here, she talks Burning Man, pyromania, and her other unique talent: rebuilding old motorcycles.
TF: You just got back from Burning Man. How was it?
It was amazing. This was my sixth year going and my second as a fire performer in the Great Circle, which was an honor. It’s something you get selected to do. You have to submit a video and audition. The Fire Council goes through quite a few troops from all over the world to find the best of the best. They gave us the honor of performing at the base of the Man the night of the ceremony. We pretty much knocked the socks off of it. I’m proud.
TF: That’s awesome! So what came first for you: Fire dancing or Burning Man?
Burning Man. My first year was 2009 and it was life changing. It’s the same thing everybody says—”it’ll blow your mind,” “it’s everything you can imagine and more.” The night of the Man Burn sitting in the front row watching the fire spinners, I was captivated. I told my husband who was sitting next to me, “I want to do that when I get home.” I’d already been a fire spinner, I’d already been playing with props for a few years, but that drew me in. Sure enough, the universe works in mysterious ways. About a week after I’d gotten home from Burning Man in 2013, I’d just moved to San Francisco and didn’t really know anybody, so I went to spin props in a local park and I ran across two troop members from Ministry of Flow. As it turns out, they were the ones I sat in front of at Burning Man. I have video of them performing. It was definitely meant to be that I was supposed to connect with this troop. I joined them in 2013 and then I performed at Burning Man this year and the year before that—and hopefully again next year.
[Photo Credit: Brian B. Sorensen]
TF: It’s such a unique skill and art. What is it about fire dancing that draws you to it?
Everybody says you’re gonna get burned if you play with fire. But there’s a connection, a spiritual connection. When I’m in a “state of flow,” the world doesn’t matter. It’s just you and your prop dancing together. You become free. There’s just this sense of overwhelming freedom and nothing else matters in the world. To the audience, to the viewer, they’re blown away. They’re just completely absorbing all of it. And you’re moving and doing things you don’t even think you’re doing. Your body just naturally reacts. When I’m in that, it’s just bliss, it’s complete utter bliss. I don’t have to think about anything, I don’t have to do anything. I’m just doing what I do naturally. It’s intuitive. It’s addicting.
TF: You mentioned that you’d already been doing prop dancing. How did that come about?
I’ve been a dancer my whole life. I love ballet, tap, jazz, tribal, funk—all different genres. But when I started seeing people hula hooping or dancing with poi or doing things with strange props, it drew me in. I was like, “Hey, that’s different. That’s kinda cool and unique.” When I see a guy dancing with a cane, I want to light that on fire and dance with that (laughs). That’s what draws me in. I see things and want to turn it into a different style of dance—and then put fire to it (laughs).
[Photo Credit: Brian B. Sorensen]
TF: So are you a pyro?
Kind of. I’ve always loved fire. Fire to me is a very sacred thing. I treat it differently than most people. Fire is my core being. I’m drawn to it very, very, very spiritually. I get a deeper connection from it. I get a sense of release when I’m around it because it produces change. I’m drawn to it in that regard—but only safely! It’s not like I’m going around lighting things on fire. I turn it into a beautiful craft. I like to share that and showcase the beauty of what fire can produce.
There are a lot of photographers who photograph me when I’m in the moment. I’ve noticed that when they see the imagery of the actual flame next to my face or next to my body, they almost see faces or a body within the flame. It’s very mind blowing. You can see the spirits within the flame. That solidifies why I love what I do.
TF: Where can we see you perform?
I’m all over the place. I do special events. People can hire me if they choose to. I do parties, concerts, and mainly festivals. I’ve gone to quite a few festivals to perform, teach, and do workshops. I teach prop manipulation for ages ranging from 6 years old to 96 years old—age doesn’t really matter, anyone can do it. I do Precompression and Decompression parties … We do renegade fire jams monthly. I’m always spinning fire somewhere in San Francisco. It’s never hard to find me. I’m either breathing fire or spinning it somewhere.
TF: Do you have any other unique skills or hobbies? You’re not like a competitive eater or anything, are you?
A competitive eater? Oh my god, I wish. No. I like to rebuild motorcycles in my spare time. I take old motorcycles that were abandoned on the streets and put them back together. I used to go to a shop in Santa Cruz where people could work on bikes for free. I learned how to do it there. I had an ‘84 Kawasaki 440 and I chopped it in half and turned it into a cafe/bobber and sold it to a good friend. Now I currently have a Honda GB500 that I restored all original.
TF: Everything you do sounds so cool.
And here I think I lead such a normal, boring life.
TF: Well, the 9-to-5 isn’t as impressive as fire dancing or rebuilding motorcycles, but still a cool gig nonetheless. How does working at Ticketfly aide you in your passions outside of the office?
I like the culture. I like the vibe. I like where Ticketfly is going. We’re constantly around cutting-edge artists, new events, venues that are in the area. That’s sweet to me. That opened my eyes and made me want to know more about what’s going on here in the city. And then the people that work here. We have musicians, we have artists, we have people from all walks of life and they’re all unique and creative. I love that. I’m passionate about that. I love what Ticketfly is bringing to the table. I just kind of fit right in the middle of it.