Fire dancers among the performers, artists attending the first Sizzling Summer Night in New Kensington


Saturday night promises to be hot in New Kensington.

Nearly 50 companies and a dozen baking artists — including fire dancers — are scheduled to participate in New Ken’s Sizzling Summer Night, a premier event that runs from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fifth Avenue between Eighth and 11th street.

It’s organized by Shop Small New Ken, which creates events in the downtown business district to help support and grow the city’s many unique small businesses, said Jamie Parker, owner of Sweet Alchemy, a bakery vegan.

Parker said she and Michelle Thom, operations manager of Voodoo Brewing New Kensington Pub, came up with it.

“We’re working to change the conversation about New Kensington while helping local businesses gain exposure,” Parker said. “We think it’s important to create fun and exciting events to encourage people to keep coming to town or coming for the first time.”

Thom said they wanted an event that incorporated arts and entertainment. In addition to the fire dancers, there will be a stilt walker, a pop-lock dancer, live art demonstrations, a drum circle, face painting and a mime.

“We wanted to create an event that didn’t have a heavy focus on music, but brought something very different to our downtown,” she said. “We have many artists that you wouldn’t usually find together at an event.”

Joe Grau, 33, of Pittsburgh’s South Side Slopes, has been fire dancing — or fire spinning, which he says is the preferred term — for about eight years.

“When done well by trained professionals, fire spinning is a relatively safe activity,” he said. “A lot of that involves security measures.”

Grau said there was something rewarding about taking the innate fear of fire, embracing it, and using it in art.

“It’s magnetic,” he said. “One criticism I always get is that it’s a very memorable and haunting thing. Most people haven’t seen this unless they venture there.

Donald Wilson, 58, is a barber in New Kensington. Some know him as Sodda Pop Kid, a nickname he received when he was 19 years old. He practices lock pop, a dance style he calls a cousin of breakdancing and has been part of Michael Jackson’s routine since he was 17.

Wilson will perform at 4:30 p.m. in front of Voodoo.

“I’m a little excited to do it. I haven’t played for a while. I still practice all the time,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are. If you take care of yourself and practice, you can always be good at whatever you do.

Joel Gabelli of New Kensington calls his cartoons “realistic”. It charges $10 per face, discounted for three or more combined.

“I don’t agree with the traditional style of cartoons that seem to be portrayed,” he said. “Oversized heads and exaggerated features are fun and all. I’m all for precision.

Rather than having subjects sit while he draws, Gabelli said he takes photos and works from them.

“It results in better drawings because the image stays still,” he said.

Thom said many vendors, nonprofits and retailers have created activities that will keep kids and adults engaged during the evening.

“It’s an event where everyone can experience something new that they may not have seen before,” she said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, or via Twitter .


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