What will the Aquarian Age look like? I know from the depth of my soul, that I saw the face of this new age at Burning Man. The essence of Aquarius was there and showed through: Humanity, Creativity, Freedom, Unity and New Technology. There was no doubt that I was going to have a great time at this alternative festival, but I didn’t realize the profound change that would happen to me by participating, which was nothing less than a once-in-a-lifetime transformation. For those of you, like my sister, who will never, ever step foot on that inhospitable desert named Black Rock City, I want to share my experiences from one of the wildest weeks in my life.
But first, here’s a bit about the phenomenon called Burning Man. Starting in 1986, Burning Man is a yearly festival in the desert of Nevada that is the biggest art, music, technology and consciousness party on earth. It takes place in one of the most unusual deserts ever, which is an alkali flat affectionately called The Playa. This year, 71,000 incredibly creative artists, DJs, techie-geeks, and fire dancers, oh yes, lots of fire dancers, met to perform and share ideas with each other. The art sculptures, because of being outside, could be three stories tall with lasers coming out of their heads. There was no way for me to understand the scale until I was there on the playa, looking up in amazement.
Even though I’ve wanted to go to Burning Man for about 15 years, this was the year that everything fell into place. The initial reason for going was that the fire dance troupe I perform with, Poi-Zen, got invited to be part of Fire Conclave, working with PyroKlectic. The climax to a week of revelry was the burning of the 40 foot Man, when all 71,000 burners “watched the Man burn”. As an opening act, Fire Conclave performed for the audience to get them ready for the amazing fireworks and the ritualistic burning of the man. Symbolically, burning releases the old, so that the new can be born out of the ashes.
There are definite accepted principles of burner etiquette, with a main concept being that BM is a gifting culture with no money exchanged or even bartering allowed. Every person, every camp and every village’s sole purpose to be there was to give their special gifts to their fellow burners. Some camps made fresh bread each morning; others were tea houses; others would wash your playafied hair; others gave pedicures to sore feet; another was a free boutique complete with a DJ and catwalk to strut your stuff after you chose your new clothes. Of course, there were plenty of all-night bars and outrageous dance clubs. On my many travels, I’ve personally danced in clubs in Ibiza, New York, London and Paris. The clubs on the playa made all of them look like little indoor proms. When you have 10 thousand, scantily clad, very high people dancing all night under the stars. . . well, it doesn’t get much better than that!
My days were spent riding around on my brightly decorated bike, visiting the art. The creativity was beyond any art gallery or museum I’ve ever seen. Some of the art sculptures came to life with movement at night via strobe lights. What amazed me too was that most of these intricate, huge works of art were designed to be burned at the end of the week, giving the artists room to create more art for next year’s burn. There were events happening 24/7, so the days were full of interactive art parties, lectures, music and theater. But since it was about 100 degrees during the day, most people took a break during the heat of the day in preparation for a long evening. The biggest treats for me were the art cars that transported people, at the maximum speed limit of 3 miles per hour, around the playa to see the art and go to dance parties. Some of the smaller art cars were golf carts decorated like turtles, fish or bunnies. The immense art cars, built from buses or rock-star RVs, complete with rockin’ DJs and expensive sound systems, could hold up to 70 riders who danced wildly for most of the night. But to my delight, every person, every bike and every art car MUST be lit up at night with flashing blinky lights, so I was seeing everyone’s light bodies walking around. Did I mention that clothing was optional?
Most people work all year long to create their outrageous costumes for the next burn. There isn’t a dress code, so everyone can let themselves be as artistic, free, lit up and interactive as possible. The surreal scene looked like a mix of Mad Max and Disneyland fast forwarded 100 years into the future. Since the playa can get blown into intense dust storms, called white outs, everyone had their own water, their handy goggles on their head and a scarf. I had a bandana around my neck like a real cowgirl and after experiencing a couple of storms, I could whip on my goggles in an instant. Being on the playa gave me an incredible feeling of self-reliance, which is one of the Burning Man’s 10 Principles . . . I’ll save them for another article. Everyone had their bike or art car to cruise the playa day and night, many with fire shooting out of every orifice. Like a two-story animated dragon with fire coming out of his mouth and lasers shining from his eyes. One of my favorite art cars was the Duck with fire flaming out of his Mohawk and the ubiquitous laser eyes. My other favorite was El Pulpo Mecanico, or the Mechanical Octopus. All of his tentacles were fire shooters, of course. There was so much fire at BM, that it thrilled me. My camp, “Heart-On!” stenciled or stamped hearts on people as our gift. We had a camp art car named “The Party Snail”. I have to say that my very most favorite art car was the Snail! It could hold 25 people comfortably, so we snailed the playa each night to see art, dance and see burns of the art.
Even though there was entertainment everywhere you turned, with fire, lights that rivaled Vegas, DJs, partially-naked people and overstimulation in every way – there was an equally strong presence to balance the wildness. The energy of the entire Black Rock City was the vibration of, what I would call, Universal Love. People looked at you straight in your eyes with a genuine gaze that said they saw the essence of you and loved your inner being. People stood a little close with a bit longer of a gaze than I initially felt comfortable with, but as the days went on, I relaxed and opened up to the loving intimacy. Somehow I bonded with every one of those 71,000 people because of what we universally shared. The playa was pervasive and didn’t spare anyone from getting sand in their eyes, ears, nose and every little nook and cranny on your body, bike, clothes and hair. After a few days, we all had a fine layer of dust on our bodies that I actually thought was flattering. It was like having your makeup airbrushed on you by Mother Nature. People looked radiant and beautiful. But the most unifying part of BM was the Temple, which was the spiritual center of the city. Built in a pyramid-shape, using no nails, it was a feat of craftsmanship in itself. By the end of the week, people turned it into a sacred shrine when they displaying all the pictures, notes and flowers for their loved ones who had passed on. I brought pictures of my beloved parents and grandparents and wrote with a sharpie on the temple how much I loved them and always will. Needless to say, many people were in tears with a lot of caring hugs being given. I can’t remember any ancient site I’ve visited around the world that felt more sacred than the Temple. Saturday night was the raucous party, music, dancing and fireworks when the Man burned. Sunday night was the Temple burn which was in total silence with the reverence of angels on high. You could openly hear sobs from the audience with people holding each other – people who have never met before and will never see each other again. But for those brief precious moments, it was the loving arms of humanity hugging itself, while trying to soothe its shared human emotion of grief.
Ok, Black Rock City is really out in the middle of nowhere. The closest town Gerlach, of 200+ people, was quite far away, so we were totally off the grid. Everyone had to bring everything they wanted to use while they were there, and haul it home when they were done. No garbage cans on the street corner at BM. So what amazed me the most of everything there was the state-of-the art technology used for these camps, art cars and art installations. The night sky was full of lasers all the time. The 360 degree circle of lights was a Disneyland image gone wild. BM had an airstrip there with skydivers falling from the planes, often with fire shooting out of the heels of their boots. Fire in the sky was quite a sight. But my new high-tech buddy there was a digital drone. There were several digital drones that had cameras and could fly up, down and turn around on a dime. One was like my pet or mascot. For example, when my camp was packing up, our photographer was taking our group shot. I looked up and could see my little drone and he zoomed down to visit us. The photographer looked at the drone, he looked at the photographer, they both looked at us and took our picture and then my little drone suddenly flew away. So our picture is now on the website of the drone. Hey . . . I want a drone for Christmas!
Now that I’m back, trying to decompress into the real world, (not very successfully might I add), I can pause to reflect on my life-changing week. When I close my eyes, I still see lights and lasers. But the main essence of wisdom I gained from my week with my wild burner buddies, was true faith in the future. The Aquarian Age really is upon us, because I experienced it. Although I’ve always been optimistic, I felt that I really saw the future . . . complete with drones, lasers, Temples and fire-breathing dragons.