Jugglers, performers, artists, and beach boys
This chapter examines how authentication criteria in fire dance scenes in Thailand have emerged over the last 15 years in response to the commoditization of the genre and increased economic competition. Fire dance – also called fire art, spinning, and juggling – is found all over the Thai islands, but it is not originally a Thai practice. The movement form is closely associated with rave cultures in North America and Europe and was brought to the country by tourists in the 1990s. Today, it is a popular “Thai” performance genre that is integrated into the tourist market, and its increasing popularity as a form of labor means that it is becoming more difficult to secure income as a dancer. Fire dancers have subsequently started to engage in practices of authentication, creating hierarchical categories of artists and non-artists. Authenticating “real” fire dancers takes place through varied discursive labels – jugglers, performers, artists, and beach boys – which are differentially valued and refracted through ethnic, racial, and national constructions. These labels are wielded by dancers in an attempt to secure their own position as a valued fire art performer and are negotiated alongside more widely held beliefs about what constitutes authentic art and artists in tourist economies.