Kool Kat of the Week: The Flaming Heart: A Tribute to Buster the Human Blowtorch, aka Todd Kelly, as The Chamber Holds a Second Reunion

Posted on: Nov 24th, 2012 By:

Todd Kelly and Torchy Taboo.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

“Todd was a Fire God on stage blowing his Soul of Fire for the world to see.”– Bry-baby, Chamber regular

 Back by popular demand, Mon Cherie has put together Chamber Reunion II, another gathering of the misfits who frequented one of Atlanta’s most notorious nightclubs, on Sat. Nov. 24 in Hell at The Masquerade. [Ed. note: read our Kool Kat interview with Mon Cherie on her Chamber memories and the first reunion here] It just wouldn’t be The Chamber without the presence of its favorite fire-breathing clown. However, due to his previous dinner arrangements with P. T. Barnum, Gypsy Rose Lee and Freddie Mercury, Mr. Todd Kelly will not be on the bill. I thought a tribute was in order.

Todd “Buster the Human Blow Torch” Kelly walked into my world in 2000. He strolled up to me in the Star Bar and introduced himself. His face was familiar; he had been in the front row of most of my Dames Aflame shows wearing a bright yellow motorcycle jacket. It caught my eye. My roommate had been hanging out with him in the witching hours after the “legal hours of operation” of a variety of Atlanta bars…the tales of mischievous behavior (to say the least) had been numerous at that point. Diminutive of stature, yet a flamboyant and verbose one-man cult of personality, not unlike myself, we became immediately lifelong comrades. He spent the evening regaling me with the amazing details of his fiercely colorful life.

Todd worked as fire performer and pyrotechnician for a myriad of bands including My Life With The Trill Kill Kult, Glitterdome and Impotent Sea Snakes (iss) just to name a few. He traveled constantly and spent the better part of 2001 in California where he became engaged to another performer from iss. Alas love’s misfortune brought him back to Georgia by the beginning of 2002. We took up right where we left off. Neither of us the type to waste much time, within days of his return, we began dating. He set the tone for our story by showing up for our first date in a knee-length REAL snake-skin jacket. He took me to The Chamber and promptly changed into his stilts and 7-foot-long silver sequined pants, tailcoat and top hat.

When Todd was not on the road, he worked a regular gig at The Chamber, either on stilts or doing his fire act, which I assisted as “safety” waiting back-stage with his fire-box full of fire-extinguishing paraphernalia in case of mishap. He taught me how to blow fire, and since we were both known for our snake acts as well, we soon began performing together. He was the consummate showman, yet never minded if my skimpy costumes upstaged his signature leather pants. But that’s who he was with everyone.

“The first time I saw Todd perform was at The Chamber. When he strode onto stage to the anthemic, ‘Du Hast,’ the energy in the room elevated immediately and then hung, palpable and frozen, in mid air. The audience, knowingly or not, fed him their every expectation, desire, anxiety, and Todd took it all in and let it go in a wildly cathartic and decadent rush of fire – a fine mist of fuel over an open flame. His act, although straightforward, was a bold, arcane ritual, and Todd was the Magus, sans turban, clad only in tight, red leather pants. In that room, he was more than fire-breather. He harnessed the frenetic energy of the room and focused it outwards into blazing spectacle. He was the transformer.” – Aileen Loy, creative impresario.

“Long before joining up with the Impotent Sea Snakes and when I first moved to Atlanta, I met Todd Kelly. We were both fixtures at The Masquerade and part of the core family of friends that hung out and/or worked there. We enjoyed many times together. I adored him. I just did not realize how beloved he was (to others) until I signed up with the band. We traveled the U.S.A. and Canada – this close quarters living bonds people in ways that can never be broken. ” – Mon Cherie, Chamber performer and promoter, and organizer of The Chamber Reunions I and II

“I never had to give Todd much direction. I’d tell him the theme for the event, and he would deliver. He was a natural at sideshow.” – Howie Stepp, manager at The Chamber

“Todd was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. I got to know him through working with him at The Star Bar and in the band Greasepaint. He had an incredible gift for being empathetic and understanding while still being objective and non-judgmental. In the few years I had the honor of knowing him, he left a lasting impression. There are not many days that pass that I don’t think of him and miss him. The world would be a far richer place if Todd Kelly was still in it.” – Joel Burkhart, musician and fellow member of Greasepaint, co-founder of the band AM Gold.

Todd Kelly and Torchy Taboo.

“Todd had the soul of a rock star and helped me become one, in my own mind at least. He could steal the show and be totally humble in the same breath, blow you out of the water and totally supportive at the same time. I’ll never forget or be able to repay his support of my photography and my singing. If I listed the people he introduced me to or the doors he opened for me, you would think I was name dropping or bragging… or you knew him too.”  – Keith Martin, photographer, musician and singer/guitar for The Stumblers.

“Todd Kelly was a jack of all trades who mastered every trade he tried. He was willing to do anything to help a friend and was so well liked you felt like the ugly girl whenever you were out with him. A rock star who gave up the stage to help a brother, we hosted Yer 15 Fuckin’ Minutes karaoke together three nights a week and worked even longer hours together after our regular schedule. A gentle soul, he even took time out to stilt walk and breathe fire for my son’s 8th birthday. Little known fact, I stole the name ‘Blue Rat’ for a headshop I opened on Cheshire Bridge, the “R-A-T” stands for “Rotknee, Alex and Todd.” I promised him we’d open something we could put our name on. Rest in peace, brother, I finished what we started. Loved that man, still do.” – Rodney Leete, wild-man on the mic, musician and emcee, Atlanta’s Best Amateur Comedy, Yer 15 minutes of Fame Karaoke. 

Torchy Taboo and Todd Kelly.

My favorite story Todd ever told me was about how he’d injured his hands very badly while trying to rescue his 15-foot-python, Junior, from a burning tour bus. When he found that his injuries made it impossible to hold his fire torches a few days later at his next booked show, he duct-taped them to his wrists and went on. Ever a man of his word, the show must go on.

Even after parting ways, we remained fiercely loyal to one another, sharing responsibility for our pets during each of our extensive tour schedules and even working together a few more times. Todd Kelly left us in 2004. He is remembered dearly by everyone who ever knew him.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Rebecca Deshon On Living THE HOOPING LIFE

Posted on: Feb 21st, 2012 By:

Rebecca DeShon of HoopEssence. Photo credit: Stephanie Anderson.

Hula hoops made of willow, grapevines and stiff grasses date back all the way to prehistoric times, but most people today probably think of them as the girls’ must-have plastic toy manufactured by Wham-O starting in the late 1950s. The quintessential toy, however, has made a comeback in recent years into hoop dance, and if you missed this twisting trend, you can catch up at the Atlanta premiere of the acclaimed documentary THE HOOPING LIFE (2010) at 7 Stages in Little Five Points on Friday Feb. 24 (doors at 8 p.m.; show at 9 p.m.).

THE HOOPING LIFE not only delves into hula hoop history but also tells eight extraordinary stories of hoop enthusiasts who have embraced it as an art form, a teacher’s aid and even an instrument of redemption. The screening will be accompanied by live performances including a spectacular aerial number by Emerald Dove (Hot Toddies Flaming Cabaret); hoop dance by Maria Valentin aka Riahoopaleena all the way from New York City; stunts by Luna Trix Hoops Performance & Fire Arts of Columbia, SC; hoops and juggling by James Abele; and acts by Gesche Anneliesa of Musee du Coeur and  Ashly Connor of Imperial Opa Circus.

The entire night’s festivities have been organized by this week’s Kool Kat Rebecca DeShon, proprietress of HoopEssence, Atlanta’s own Hoop Dance performance company and school. ATLRetro recently caught up with Rebecca, to find out more about THE HOOPING LIFE, as well as how she got into hooping, how hooping has transformed her life and what it’s like to live la vida hoop dance.

ATLRetro: Hula hoops seemed to be less popular for a while, but now are enjoying a Renaissance of sorts not just with girls but grown-ups, too. Why do you think it’s back in vogue?

Rebecca DeShon: Hoop dance and hula hooping have really exploded into so many scenes. What was once thought of as just a fad in the underground club scene has really blossomed into a tool for dance, self expression, fitness, meditation and so much more. In my opinion, we are only just beginning to see this full immersion of society in hula hooping. Some hoopers like to call it a “Revolution,” if you will. I think part of the reason it is becoming so much more popular is the development of hand-crafted hula hoops which open up hooping to people of all ages and fitness levels. Besides, it just feels like a lot of fun, which is more than you can say about a lot of other fitness routines. Who doesn’t want that?

For the uninitiated, what’s the difference between hula-hooping and hoop dance

Modern hoop dance has come such a long way since the stereotypical image most people think of from hula hooping in the ‘50s. People are now completely expressing themselves in dance both inside the hoop and using the hoop as a prop to tell a story through dance. We are repurposing an object that was only to be flung around the waist in endless rotation or simply rolled on the ground into what is now a vast array of styles and forms of hooping or hoop dance. Today we see hoopers not just simply flinging dozens of hoops around their waist like you see in the circus, but truly dancing in and with the hula hoop as a dance partner. It is now such an extraordinary companion for artistic self expression.

Hoop dance just means that we are actually dancing with our hoops and at times incorporating many different “tricks.”  Hooping has expanded so far between styles that we are actually seeing entire “genres” of hoop dance styles. It is an incredible art form! With the proper hand-crafted hoop, patience, practice and determination, I know that anyone can be a hoop dancer. I, for one, have no professional dance training, so I can assure you that you don’t have to be a “dancer” to become a hoop dancer.

I understand fans from all of the Southeast are coming to Atlanta for the screening. What’s so special about THE HOOPING LIFE as a movie?

We are thrilled to report that we have fans and performers coming from all over the US for this event! They are coming from as far away as CA, NYC and Texas! Chicago, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and all over the state of GA. THE HOOPING LIFE is a feature-length film that has been six years in the making. It is a labor of love in the form of a documentary film which has not been released for public screenings until Jan 2012. We have been waiting for this event for so long and are so super thrilled to see its final release. THE HOOPING LIFE documentary is important not just for hoopers but for those who don’t know its amazing life-changing benefits. The film has been shot all over the world by the hoopers themselves. This film covers eight story lines from eight very different aspects of just how dynamic hooping can be. It is the first film of its kind!

Will any of the filmmakers be there?

Currently the filmmakers are super busy working on the music video for “Hooping Life”, the original music by Basement Jaxx which was created just for this amazing film. While nothing has been set in stone, we have heard rumors of interest in them making the trip. Honestly, with an event like this, you really just never know who might show up! Surprise guests will be there and you just need to be present to see exactly who!

Rebecca DeShon hoop dances with fire at Hellbilly Family Reunion (Elliott Street Pub 2011). Photo credit: Erick Jara.

What else is happening Friday night at 7 Stages in addition to the screening?

We have a spectacular evening of entertainment planned for our guests!! Doors open at 8 with live entertainment right from the start! We will have hooping gifts, hoops and merchandise for your shopping pleasure, a “red carpet” photo session for guests, HUGE prize giveaways, a carnival-like atmosphere with jugglers/stilt walkers/hoopers and that is just the pre-show!! At 9 p.m., the stage shows begin with live performers for your pleasure Maria Valentin from NYC, Lunatrix Performance & Circus Arts (SC), Ashly Connor (Imperial Opa Circus), Emerald Dove on aerial silks (Hot Toddies Flaming Cabaret), Gesche Annelesia (Musee du Coeur) and many more performances. After the live performances, we have the Atlanta Premiere of THE HOOPING LIFE film. Directly following the film, we will invite all guests to come up on stage and give the hoop a twirl themselves for a huge hooper dance party. We also have visuals being projected on the screen from start to finish. This is going to be an incredible evening like no other in Atlanta.

How did you first discover that you loved to hula hoop?

I was actually gifted my first ever adult hand-crafted hula hoop in 2008 from a friend, Beki Bear, as a going away gift before embarking on a journey to New York for a while. That first northern winter, I found myself stuck indoors buried under snow and very cold with nothing but my hula hoop. I picked up my hoop, began playing with it and really found myself embracing it. I was so surprised at how much I was enjoying playing with the hoop. I felt great about learning a new skill and have always loved dancing so I was hooked right away, head over heels. I began searching online, hungry to learn more about hooping. At the time there were very few resources to learn from and, unless you lived in California or were willing to travel many miles, not many instructors around. I found a great resource called Hooping.org which I like to call “the holy grail of Hooping.” You can find endless information about hooping from this site. I didn’t realize then that I would use the hoop as a tool for self-empowerment or use it to help others to do the same.

How did you start performing professionally and what’s your favorite gig so far?

I guess you could say I just stumbled into performing during my hooping development. As a hoop dancer beginning my journey inRochester,NY, performing came pretty naturally for me. Hoop dance was so unique that people couldn’t help but stop and watch. I love what I do and want to inspire others to try it out and experience the joy, so performing just came with the part. My first gig was just a couple of months after beginning my hoop dance journey. I got to perform as part of My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult at Water Street Music Hall in Rochester, NY. At first I was terrified, but I really enjoyed the crowd’s response and the adrenaline rush of performing so after that first gig I was instantly hooked. I have been blessed with a lot of really fun gigs.

Rebecca DeShon performs at The High for College Night with Dance Truck. Photo Credit: Matt Gilbert.

Many of my gigs are corporate events, which gives me the opportunity to perform in some really exciting venues. Last year I was hired to perform at The Georgia Aquarium dressed up as a mermaid. I also loved hooping at The High Museum of Art a couple weeks ago for College Night. Next month I am particularly looking forward to a gig at Chateau Elan for Verizon Wireless (we are conducting an LED Circus of sorts). I also participate in a lot of smaller gigs in club style settings as well as my work with charity organizations such as East Atlanta Kids Club, Atlanta Streets Alive and Atlanta Women’s Foundation.

On March 3, I will be performing and doing class demos for Atlanta Dance Marathon at Zoo Atlanta – which is a benefit for Atlanta Children’s Network Hospitals. I really love community-based work and feel hooping can be used as a tool for outreach on so many levels. It is simply a joy to share what I do! I dedicate a lot of time and energy into my practice, sometimes at the cost of sleep. It brings me so much joy to share the experience of hooping that I really find it is worth the effort.

You’ve said that hula hooping has changed your life. Can you talk just a bit about how and what is it about hula-hooping that you personally find so special?

Hooping or hoop dance has changed my life in dramatic ways and I continue to grow daily through what I learn inside the hoop. Initially I saw the physical benefits of hooping right away. My body is more fit and trim with great muscle tone – all from what I once thought of as just a simple child’s toy. Later, I noticed my stress being melted away from hooping, anxiety being relieved, and, of course, exercising produces endorphins that helped to naturally chase away any blues or depression.

Rebecca DeShon. Body paint & photo by Stephanie Anderson (Neon Armour).

Hooping gives me a great feeling of accomplishment, even when I am not performing for others. It is nice to feel good about yourself and what you are doing. Hooping has led me to make some of the most incredible friends and expanded into what is today a global community of hoop dancers. My life suddenly had direction and purpose once I began hooping. I found myself thinking and living more positively and healthier. The list goes on and on… I could speak for days about how hooping has changed my life: from the most simple things to complexities even I find hard to believe at times. Hoop dance has literally caused a chain reaction of positivity and prosperity in my life.

The hoop has a way of changing your attitude. Once you get the hang of hooping and get past the initial learning curve – this only takes a few minutes with the proper hoop and instruction – it is so unbelievably difficult to not be happy and giggle while hooping. You will find that if you are in the presence of hoopers, we are generally pretty happy and positive. I feel most of us work hard to spread that love to others. I am so fortunate to have found an outlet in hooping that lets me get past the miseries and frustrations that life puts in our way, and focus that energy towards something positive for myself and for those around me.

How did hula hooping grow from a hobby into you founding Hoopessence? 

Hooping began as a hobby that I discovered I just couldn’t keep to myself. I wanted to share the love and joy with everyone I met. So I learned how to hand-craft hoops and began teaching everyone who would listen. I found it is not hard to get others excited about hooping once they see you hoop and hear/see the magical benefits of it all; they want to try it too. I found that hooping and sharing the benefits was a calling for me. I became a certified hoop dance instructor within my first year of hooping and since then have built my own teaching style.

Now, my own HoopEssence teacher trainings are in the works. I just want to share the love with as many people as possible. So it comes pretty easy for me. Turning any hobby into a business is very challenging however. What you once did for fun can feel forced and unnatural once you try to earn a living from your hobby. It is a very delicate balance. I love what I do so much that I am willing to work hard and make sacrifices to do what I do. I am also really fortunate to be married to an amazingly supportive man who assists in any way he can with my business. He is constantly empowering me to excel and grow. For that I am thankful. If it was just me on my own, I’m not sure could not make a living from hooping; a business needs the support of a great team.

Rebecca DeShon. Photo credit: Stephanie Anderson.

What types of classes do you offer at HoopEssence?

I offer classes in all things hoop at HoopEssence. Beginner basics, intermediate hooping, specialty hooping classes (i.e. minis, isolations, multiple hoops), workshops, hoop crafting workshops, private lessons, dancing in and out of your hoop, children classes and community jams. You name it, I hoop it! If you are just getting into hooping, I teach you all the basics of this great hobby in my Hooping 101 Series. Hooping 101 is four Sunday classes from 1-2:30pm with my next series starting March 4. You may find all the info about my next Hooping 101 series here.

I am also teaching intermediate and advance hoop dance classes at various locations throughout the Metro Atlanta area. You may find all the information and more through my website www.hoopessence.com. I am always looking out for new venues and private lesson students as well. If you would like to book a lesson or want to see hoop dance in your neighborhood, drop me a line and say hello. I am always here to help. With the upcoming spring and summer months, I have a lot of free outdoor events (called Hoop Jams) where I bring hoops, tunes and people can come join in on the fun with no obligations.

Any secrets to buying a great hula hoop?

A great hula hoop is a hand-crafted adult hula hoop. The hoops that you find in the dollar store just don’t cut it and can leave you feeling hopeless as a hooper. You can find hoops of all sizes and all the colors of the rainbow through my website  www.hoopessence.com/products-page. I hand-craft each hoop and fancy myself as somewhat of a “hoop sizing expert”. If you find yourself in the market for a new hoop or are just simply curious to what its all about, please feel free to call or drop a line with your questions. I would be more than happy to assist you in choosing. It can be a bit overwhelming for the beginner with all the options available from sizes, weight, colors, material, LED and even fire hoops. Check out my website and also be sure to sign up for my email newsletter where I send out coupons for deep discounts on all things hoop!

Tickets for THE HOOPING LIFE are just $15 when purchased online in advance before midnight on Feb. 21.  Any remaining tickets will be available at the door only for $20 each, but be warned, at press time, there were only 50 seats left so we highly recommend purchasing in advance here.

Find HoopEssence on Facebook and Twitter.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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