By Danielle Bourne
For some, the ordinary nine-to-five routine is enough, but others crave the excitement of something a little bit different. Danielle Bourne discovers the attraction of less ordinary occupations, such as stilt walker, angle grinder and fire artist
"I'M a creative, physical person," says Kayleigh Fyfe. "I've tried ordinary jobs but I just find them so boring and mundane."
Kayleigh is a dance teacher who owns her own studio and entertainment company, but the 25-year-old is also a stilt walker and angle grinder. For those new to the act of angle grinding, this involves having a metal disc attached to your body – usually on a pair of pants or bikini bottoms – and using an angle grinder to create sparks to music.
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Angle grinding and stilt walking are acts which are mainly used for entertaining clubbers in nightclubs across the UK and abroad. The acts are also becoming increasingly popular as alternative entertainment at corporate events, and even weddings.
The unusual, and somewhat bizarre, act of grinding has become slightly more mainstream in recent years thanks to ITV's Britain's Got Talent.
Angle grinder Victoria Armstrong got to the semi-finals in the first series of the show, and last year pyrotechnic dance troupe Area 51, which featured two angle grinders, were contestants in the sixth series.
The majority of stilt walkers, angle grinders and fire artists – which includes fire eating, breathing and body burning – start as podium dancers in clubs and progress to being multi-skilled entertainers. Kayleigh, from Penkhull, started as a podium dancer when she was 18 years old.
"I've always wanted to be a performer since I was tiny," explains Kayleigh, who is mum to two-year-old Isaac.
"When I was 14 I started attending a local dance school, mainly learning hip hop, then when I left school I went to Stoke-on-Trent College to study performing arts. College was great as I learnt a lot about different styles of contemporary dance, but we were also taught singing, acting and musical theatre. Although I've got no ambition to go into acting, I do like to become a character when I'm performing, so the acting classes were beneficial."
Since Kayleigh started as a podium dancer she has never struggled to find paid work. "It was daunting at first, especially as I was quite young," says Kayleigh. "We mainly wore leggings and corsets, nothing too revealing, and the bouncers always looked after us. I would work three or four 20-minute sets a night and would get about £80, not bad money for an 18-year-old!"
While working weekends at various nightclubs, Kayleigh continued to attend the dance school and was offered the chance to teach two of the younger teams. Her dance captain also trained her in street dance and stilt walking. Stilt walkers are employed either as promoters, who work outside of the club, or they are based inside the club interacting with the crowd.
"You do have to be a bit crazy to do this kind of job," she admits. "Stilt walking is very scary at first and you have to know what you're doing, but it is quite safe. Sometimes the club owners want you to play a character so you need to be outgoing and flamboyant."
Wanting to further her training, Kayleigh started a degree in dance at Wolverhampton University but dropped out after just a few months as she struggled to juggle her studies with her paid work. As well as working as a podium dancer and stilt walker, Kayleigh worked as an events manager for a non-profit community company, for two years. Her role involved assisting schools and community groups to set up their own shows.
It wasn't until Kayleigh became pregnant, aged 22, that she had to put her dancing and performing on hold.
It was during her pregnancy that she started to work on her business plan, and when Isaac was one year old, she started her own entertainment company, Loud Entertainment.
Through her contacts within the entertainment industry Kayleigh quickly established her business, gaining contracts to provide dancers and performers to clubs in Stoke-on-Trent and across the West Midlands.
It was also during this time that the young entrepreneur first tried her hand at angle grinding. "I saw it done at Gatecrasher in Nottingham," she explains, "I was absolutely amazed by it and immediately wanted to learn how to do it."
There is risk to the angle grinding act, as the performers are using blades that are designed to cut through metal and are often wearing quite minimal costumes.
"I think it's the dangerous side of the act that appeals to me," adds Kayleigh. "You only have a thin piece of material behind the mental disc and it gets very warm. There is the risk of cutting or burning yourself.
"I personally haven't had any injuries, but I know grinders who have ended up with burns, and you do hear other horror stories about what can happen when things go wrong.
"For me, my main concern is that someone from the crowd will trip over the cable, and as that's attached to the grinder that could endanger my safety. However, I'm skilled at what I do and all of the nightclubs that I work in are hot on their health and safety responsibilities, so that reduces the risk of injuries."
So what exactly is the attraction to this kind of job?
"I just want to perform and I get a massive buzz from it," she says. "I enjoy challenges, I like to push myself to new levels and I get very easily bored with normality. Plus if you're a multi-skilled performer it pays very well.
"I love grinding, it can be done very straight, but as a trained dancer I like to make more of a performance of my act and I go all out on designing the costumes.
"I never stand still and even in my spare time I like to push myself. I have to keep fit to do this job and I always prefer the type of exercise where someone is standing over you and pushing you on.
"My next challenge is to train to be a fire artist, but I must admit the thought of it scares me more than anything else I've tried. It's not the fire I'm concerned about; it's the idea of having the paraffin in my mouth.
"Although I push myself to extremes, I do also have my limits, same as any other dancer, and for me I'm not that comfortable being naked. I regularly provide entertainers for Liquid nightclub in Hanley, and for New Year's Eve they wanted a masquerade ball theme. As well as providing other dancers I also performed, which meant wearing a long gold skirt and an elaborate mask, but only body paint on the top half of my body.
"That's as far as I would go, where it concerns nudity, and to be honest I'm not that keen on repeating the experience again."
As a dancer and a performer, Kayleigh has experienced negative reactions from people when they find out what she does for a living.
"I do get judged," she admits. "When I say I'm a dancer, people often assume that means I'm a stripper. Men are the worst for being judgemental; they sometimes put me down as being easy, when that couldn't be further from the truth.
"I wasn't taken seriously at first, when I started my business, and that was really frustrating as I'm very driven and career-minded. I am only 25 but I own a successful business and I've worked hard for what I've achieved. I would like some recognition for that.
"Unfortunately most people judge you on first appearances, I am young-looking, I dress quite feminine and girly and I also have quite a high voice, so when people first meet me they assume I'm going to be ditsy.
"I like to think though, that once they've spoken to me they'll realise I am intelligent and a more than capable business woman."
True to her word, Kayleigh has just branched out to open Loud Dance Studio in Hanley, where she is offering a range of dance and fitness classes, from hip hop and street to Zumba and Bowka.
"At the moment I still enjoy performing in nightclubs, but there is an age limit in this kind of career, that's why I'm aiming to do less of the actual performing myself and more on the management side," adds Kayleigh.
"I don't want Isaac to be rocking up to a club in 16 years' time and finding his mum on the podium!"
Perhaps the most dangerous of this type of alterative entertainment is the acts involving fire. Known as 'fire artists' they are usually multi-skilled and perform a variety of stunts involving fire eating, fire breathing and also body burning – where the flame is stroked across their arm or leg.
Self-confessed adrenalin junkie, Kayleigh Jane Riches, is regularly employed by Kayleigh at Loud Entertainment to provide her services as a fire artist, and can be seen performing at Liquid nightclub in Hanley.
The 25-year-old, from Solihull, also started as a podium dancer, but unlike her employer is not a trained dancer. She started podium work at 18 years old and since then has been booked every weekend and worked all over the UK.
It was on Halloween two years ago that she first saw a fire breathing act and decided she wanted to give it a try. "I'm completely self-taught," confesses Kayleigh, "but I know what I'm doing. It is highly dangerous and I'm well aware of the risks, but I love it and get a complete kick out of the audience reaction."
The danger comes more from the paraffin rather than the flame itself and the risks that Kayleigh alludes to include pneumonia, losing part of or a whole lung and possibly death. Fire breathers have to hold the paraffin in their mouth and they can ingest particles into their lungs, while doing so.
"When I first started the act I was performing it twice a week, mainly because I was in demand from clubs, but also because I got such a rush from performing that it got to be quite addictive," she explains.
"I've cut down now as it was affecting my health, a friend of mine lost part of a lung so that was a bit of a wake-up call."
The work of a fire artist is mainly weekend work, though she does also work in clubs abroad during the summer. In direct opposition to her entertainment work, Kayleigh also has a normal nine-to-five job that she does during the winter months.
"I work in finance," she admits. "Because I'm quirky and bubbly and breathe fire for a living, most people expect me to be a bit of an airhead, but I'm not. I've worked within the financial industry for the past eight years, I've been a personal banker for Barclays, I currently work as a co-ordinator for an independent financial adviser and I'm in my first year of a degree in business management and communication. I must admit I like to see the shocked look on people's faces when they find out about my two jobs.
"It's like I lead a double life; during the winter I wear suits, study and keep normal hours, then during the summer I get to express my inner quirkiness and perform as my dangerous alter-ego.
"It's really cool to be able to do a job that's so unconventional. I like action, adventure and the rush of adrenalin I get. I love the danger, even in my spare time I do things like snowboarding and sky diving.
"One of my highlights is playing at Liquid in Hanley, I can be performing in front of a crowd of about 2,000 people and I get an ego trip knowing that I'm impacting on their night. If someone aspires to a career that's a bit different, I'd say just go for it.
"I'm not going to be able to work as a dancer and a fire artist forever and one day I will have to give up the double life, but just not yet!"
For more information, visit www.louddancestudio.co.uk
Kayleigh Jane Riches says that fire eaters have to be extremely careful not to swallow the paraffin they hold in their mouths during performances.