In Hidden Talents, Bwog exposes your classmates as the strange and glorious wunderkinder they truly are. Below, Bwog’s Embers Enthusiast, Atira Main, interviews the vivacious vixen Reina deBeers, a fire breather. If you know a stunt double, hostage negotiator, or curling champion who’d like to be profiled, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may have seen Reina deBeers, GS ’12, around campus: with a flower perennially tucked in her hair, she resembles vintage pin-up transported to campus. Reina’s a psych major focusing on human sexual behavior, so maybe it’s not completely unexpected that she’s also known as “Reina Terror,” a fire breather who performs a mesmerizing side show act. Reina takes to the stage with a set of torches, fire fans dipped in white gas, and a bottle of lamp oil. She chooses her own music and choreographs her set, sometimes following a specific event’s theme. Her performances combine dance and fire; billowing balls of fire and tendrils of flame lap at her body. Flames entrance people naturally, but she build the tension by rapidly spinning fire to give the appearance of danger, then slows it down with her flickering fan. “If you move too quickly, people won’t even notice what happened,” she explains. The performances invoke an emotion response, ranging from erotic and aggressive to sacred and mellow. After all, fire is sexy.
Reina started her sideshows at the tender age of 16. She was finishing up high school and trying to find an acting gig, while simultaneously working in a tattoo shop and living in a Williamsburg loft. While most people get stuck with neurotic cat owners or secretive meth heads, Reina’s first roommate was Reverend B. Dangerous: a sideshow performer, who saw Reina as the freaky weirdo she really is (on the inside). The Reverend gave young Reina her first taste of fire—literally. “We were sitting on the couch and he was holding the torch. I was nervous and he just lit the torch and stuffed in my face,” remembers Reina. “I put it out with my mouth and that was how it all started.” Reina performed for fun for a year or two, learning other side show acts like mental flossing, human dartboard, bed of nails, and glass walking. “He taught me to walk on glass over the phone.” But Reina promises, “I had a buddy there for safety of course.” When she first started, most sideshow performers at Coney Island and in Ripley’s were men. But Reina went pro at 18, relentlessly representing the fearless female freak, in her signature costume of heels fishnets, bloomers, black leather corset, and bra.
Reina soon took her talents on the road, booking club gigs in London and Paris. She toured with Ozzfest on the East Coast, traveled across the nation with the Girly Freak Show Slymenstra Hymen (of GWAR fame), and performed with Zamora’s traveling Torture King Show. She even appeared in the documentary Betty Page Reveals All.
Safety is always a concern when fire and flammables are involved, but Reina has never had an accident. “You just gotta know what you’re doing and respect it,” explains Reina, “people usually get injured once they get too comfortable [with the fire] and relax.” Reina, unlike many fire performers, boasts no scars after years in the business. And she does this all sober. As a solo performer, Reina takes extra precaution, remembering the perpetual risk of injury. The only injury she ever sustained on stage was from an errant bull-whip cracked at her human dartboard style by another performer; sideshows are serious business, and sometimes people end up needing eye patches.
A typical night for Reina Terror will find her pushing her way into a crowded club with two bags of equipment in tow. It only takes her fifteen minutes to set up, while making sure no one spills or drinks her fuel backstage. Still, the Ralphie fan promises that lamp oil doesn’t taste too terrible if accidentally consumed—only “like burning.” Her act is a flamboyant enough exhibition that she usually performs at the end of the night, closing the event with a bang after musicians and burlesque dancers have exited the stage.
Balancing her two lives isn’t easy. The first year Reina started at Columbia she couldn’t find the time to perform between full time obligations as a bartender and student. “I fell into a sort of funk. Academia and science needs to be balanced with art.” Her life as a performer quickly crept into academic life. It spread like (forgive the pun) wildfire and served as the perfect icebreaker. A naturally outgoing lady, this suited Reina. “Between working and going to class full time I didn’t get to know anyone for the first two semesters I was here,” says Reina, “but meeting people is part of what college is about!”
Unfortunately you may not see her performing in Roone. She’s been invited to perform at Columbia talent shows, but her fire poses a problem for organizers. The War on Fun rages on. Friends are constantly trying to get her perform secret shows on campus, but giant fireballs are anything but discrete.
Still, other clubs are still willing to host freaky fire shows. Back in the day, Reina wowed audiences at the legendary, now defunct, CBGB and the Slipper Room. You can still catch her at Le Poisson Rouge, Shanghai Mermaid and Burlesque on the Beach. Or, see her perform in the privacy of your own library nook here.